Here’s what will swing every NBA team’s season

It seems like only two-and-a-half months ago, LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy as champions inside the Orlando bubble.

Oh, wait. That’s exactly what happened.

Yes, after only 72 days away, NBA basketball is back!

Are the Lakers a lock for another title, or could a reshuffled franchise like the LA Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, or Brooklyn Nets catch them? Will the back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, fresh off signing his max extension, deliver a ring to the Milwaukee Bucks?

Here’s what you need to know about the league’s contenders, pretenders and every team in between ahead of a 2020-21 season unlike any other.

Note: Our NBA Power Rankings are based on which teams voters (a group of more than 40 reporters, insiders and editors) think belong higher heading into the 2020-21 season. Title odds and over-under wins totals were provided by Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.

Zach Lowe rates all 30 teams, from top to bottom


1. Los Angeles Lakers

When we last saw them …
The Lakers were the last team standing in the bubble, earning the franchise’s 17th title, while LeBron James took home his fourth Finals MVP award to go with his fourth championship. L.A. was able to revamp its roster to make a repeat run seem feasible, if not inevitable.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 49-23

  • Basketball Power Index (BPI): 56-16

  • FiveThirtyEight: 48-24

  • Caesars: 47.5 wins | Title odds: +275

Lakers in NBArank

  • LeBron James (1)

  • Anthony Davis (2)

  • Montrezl Harrell (76)

  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (77)

  • Dennis Schroder (79)

  • Marc Gasol (96)

Breakout candidate: Kyle Kuzma
With a three-year, $40 million extension locked up two days before the start of the season, Kuzma should have nothing to worry about. He has his ring, he’s got his contract and now the fourth-year player just has to keep improving his game. The 25-year-old Kuzma was the lone young asset the Lakers held onto in the Anthony Davis trade, and now he’ll get to grow alongside the 27-year-old Davis for years to come.

Pivot point for 2020-21: How long can LeBron keep this up?

James will turn 36 this month as he begins his 18th season in the league, and while he’s shown precious little signs of a drop off — he finished second in MVP voting — nobody fends off Father Time forever.

“Listen to my body, my body will tell me where I am at that point in time and just listen to it, that’s what it’s about,” James said when asked to explain how he will manage his health this season. “I’ll be very smart. We’re a marathon team, we understand that, we’re not in a sprint.”

Therein lies the crux of the issue for L.A.: So much of the Lakers’ success last season was tied to James going full bore to set the standard from Day 1 of his pairing with Davis. While the Lakers certainly want the best out of James come playoff time, will they lose the magic formula that worked so well if he eases up in the regular season this time around?

After all, some view James agreeing to a two-year, $85 million extension this offseason as an acknowledgement of his basketball mortality to begin with — he took the guaranteed money down the line rather than keep betting on himself with short-term deals to maximize his earning potential, as had been his practice.

Could he be ready to ease off the gas? And if he does, do the Lakers have enough to keep up their championship form without James in elite form all the time?

— Dave McMenamin

2. Milwaukee Bucks

When we last saw them …
Despite finishing with the best record for the second consecutive season and having high hopes of reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974, the Bucks were stunned by the Heat in the second round. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who aggravated his right ankle injury in Game 4 of that series, watched the end of the Bucks’ season from the bench.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 50-22

  • BPI: 56-16

  • FiveThirtyEight: 47-25

  • Caesars: 49.0 wins | Title odds: +500

Bucks in NBArank

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo (3)

  • Jrue Holiday (33)

  • Khris Middleton (35)

  • Brook Lopez (86)

Breakout candidate: Donte DiVincenzo

The third-year shooting guard was almost in Sacramento, but the failed trade with the Kings could be a blessing in disguise. DiVincenzo missed the majority of his rookie year with a foot injury, then started in 24 of 66 games for Milwaukee last season, showing flashes of his ability. Now likely in a starting role, his output should increase playing in the backcourt with new Bucks acquisition Jrue Holiday.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Did Milwaukee do enough this offseason?

The elephant has left the room: Antetokounmpo will remain in Milwaukee for the long term, but will that decision lead to a title?

For the past two seasons, the Bucks have been dominant but have failed to reach the Finals. Now, Milwaukee is confident it has a stronger supporting cast around the Greek Freak. The 26-year-old is entering the prime of his career, coming off a second straight MVP campaign and Defensive Player of the Year award. The Bucks hope former All-Star Jrue Holiday is the missing piece.

“I feel like this year, honestly adding me, I feel like we do have this extra toughness,” Holiday said during training camp. “Not saying that they didn’t have it before, but I think with me here, with my attention to detail, with how I play defense, I really just think that we can get over that hump.”

From the opening day of practice, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer noticed that toughness on both ends of the floor from Holiday. All-Star swingman Khris Middleton is also motivated by the disappointment from the past two seasons and is looking to help Milwaukee get over the hump as they notice their window of opportunity to chase a title is right now.

— Eric Woodyard

3. LA Clippers

When we last saw them …
Doc Rivers was the head coach, Montrezl Harrell was the Clippers’ Sixth Man of the Year and Paul George shot a 3 off the side of the backboard. The Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead to Denver and Kawhi Leonard was questioning the team’s basketball IQ.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 46-26

  • BPI: 49-23

  • FiveThirtyEight: 45-27

  • Caesars: 47.0 wins | Title odds: +500

Clippers in NBArank

  • Kawhi Leonard (5)

  • Paul George (20)

  • Serge Ibaka (66)

  • Patrick Beverley (90)

  • Marcus Morris Sr. (99)

Breakout candidate: Ivica Zubac

Zubac is entering his fifth season, but there could be more opportunities for the big man in 2020-21. Rivers preferred to finish games with either Harrell or JaMychal Green at the 5, limiting Zubac to 18.4 minutes per game. Rivers, Harrell and Green are gone. Lue has already declared that Serge Ibaka will be his starting center. But Zubac, who averaged 9.1 points and 7.2 rebounds in the playoffs, has shown flashes of a rapport with Leonard and could find himself playing more, especially if the Clippers monitor Ibaka’s minutes to keep the veteran fresh for the postseason.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Can a new coach unlock the Clippers’ chemistry?

The Clippers were title contenders on paper last season. But they unraveled in the bubble due to a lack of chemistry, mental toughness and leadership. Instead of running it back with the same core, Steve Ballmer opted to replace Rivers with Lue.

Can Lue improve the team’s chemistry? Last season’s lack of cohesion wasn’t all on Rivers. There were injuries and disruptions like the pandemic and three key players temporarily leaving the bubble. But Rivers still never could get the group of gritty vets that overachieved the season before to mesh with new stars Leonard and George and new veteran additions like Marcus Morris Sr. While the team lost Harrell and Green in free agency, they traded for Luke Kennard and signed Ibaka, who has championship familiarity with Leonard and should improve locker room chemistry.

Lue has no easy task: hold the team more accountable, improve in-game strategy and do it all under immense pressure to win a title in a rushed training camp. If they suffer another disappointing playoff finish, the Clippers won’t have any more excuses and Leonard has a player option in his contract for 2021-22.

— Ohm Youngmisuk

4. Brooklyn Nets

When we last saw them …
The Nets made the playoffs inside the bubble — they just didn’t look anything like they do now. With a patchwork roster, they were swept by the Raptors in the opening round. But that was the then-Nets, and this is the now-Nets. That version didn’t have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. This one does.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 43-29

  • BPI: 41-31

  • FiveThirtyEight: 40-32

  • Caesars: 45.0 wins | Title odds: +600

Nets in NBArank

  • Kevin Durant (6)

  • Kyrie Irving (25)

  • Caris LeVert (46)

  • Spencer Dinwiddie (49)

  • Jarrett Allen (94)

  • Joe Harris (100)

Breakout candidate: Bruce Brown

The Nets are looking for young players to emerge as effective role players next to their superstar duo, and Brown looks to be a potential impact player. He’s a tough, physical defensive guard who doesn’t need the ball all that much, which is a good prerequisite on this roster.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Must-see TV … on and off the court

With Durant and Irving taking over leadership of the Nets’ locker room, it’s not hard to picture some, let’s be polite and say, interesting things bubbling up. Already we’ve seen Irving taking a brief stand on media policies, which he quickly relented and resumed his responsibilities.

There will be some noise surrounding this team, but it’s a matter of always trying to focus on the signal. It’s been already evident in the preseason what kind of firepower this group possesses, and on any given night they could absolutely light up the NBA. Plus, add in a little trade rumor drama and you have the perfect mix for a combustible season. The James Harden chatter isn’t going anywhere soon and even so, the Nets haven’t been too shy about a desire to add a third All-Star caliber player to their group.

The Nets are one of the more fascinating teams this season for a variety of reasons — first and foremost, the basketball should be very good — but if you like off-court drama and side plots, this is the team to follow.

— Royce Young

5. Miami Heat

When we last saw them …
The Heat became the darlings of the bubble, pulling off one of the most unexpected postseason runs in recent league history. Jimmy Butler led the Heat to within just two games of a championship before falling to LeBron and the Lakers.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 44-28

  • BPI: 50-22

  • FiveThirtyEight: 40-32

  • Caesars: 44.5 wins | Title odds: +1500

Heat in NBArank

  • Jimmy Butler (12)

  • Bam Adebayo (13)

  • Goran Dragic (58)

  • Tyler Herro (59)

  • Duncan Robinson (75)

Breakout candidate: Bam Adebayo

Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson took big leaps during the Heat’s bubble run, but the player who is poised to break into superstardom is the man whom Miami recently inked to a max extension: Adebayo. The Heat big man had an All-Star season a year ago, but teammates and coaches are convinced he can be even better.

Pivot point for 2020-21: No bubble, no problem?

The big question hovering over the Heat: Can they play as well outside of the bubble as they did inside of it? The answer centers around how much of a Finals hangover they may have to deal with throughout the year. Butler said at the outset of training camp that many teams are dealing with similar issues heading into a new, condensed year. But the Heat took things to an even deeper physical and emotional level than most.

The Heat pride themselves on not using excuses, but their collective energy is something to watch all year. They are motivated to prove they can be one of the league’s elite teams, but it’s tough for any team to refuel the tank after emptying it out the way the Heat did. Butler has the mental toughness to carry the team for stretches alongside Adebayo, but he is going to need more help than at any other point in his career as the Heat attempt to manage his minutes and maneuver through another unprecedented season.

— Nick Friedell

6. Boston Celtics

When we last saw them …
The Celtics didn’t have enough to make it back to the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade, instead losing to the Heat in six games in the Eastern Conference finals. Boston was arguably the more talented team, but the combination of injuries to Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward and Bam Adebayo beasting Boston inside was enough to send the Celtics home.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 44-28

  • BPI: 47-25

  • FiveThirtyEight: 47-25

  • Caesars: 45.0 wins | Title odds: +1500

Celtics in NBArank

  • Jayson Tatum (11)

  • Jaylen Brown (32)

  • Marcus Smart (37)

  • Kemba Walker (48)

Breakout candidate: Jaylen Brown

With Hayward now in Charlotte and Walker out at the start of the season with an injured left knee, the Celtics need Brown to continue his ascent toward becoming a true-blue star on the wing. Brown could’ve been an All-Star last season; Boston would love to see him eliminate any doubt from that sort of conversation this year. If Brown can do that, Boston will be just fine — even after losing Hayward.

Pivot point for 2020-21: How big of an issue is Walker’s bulky knee?

There is little doubt that the Celtics did the right thing by signing Walker last summer as a free agent. After all of the trials and tribulations of the Kyrie Irving era, Walker brought desperately needed calm and stability to the locker room. And, when he was healthy, he brought plenty of scoring punch — though it was also combined with an understanding, and a willingness, to take a back seat to Jayson Tatum and Brown.

Now, though, Walker is going on almost an entire calendar year’s worth of knee problems — which will keep him sidelined until 2021, and potentially several weeks into it before he’s fully ramped up and ready to go. Still, Boston will be just fine with that if Walker’s recovery period after a stem cell injection and a 12-week strengthening program for his left knee will have him ready to go for the playoffs. With a healthy Walker, Boston has a chance to repeat its success from last season. With an injured Walker, Boston has a millstone contract on its books — and a far lower ceiling than they’d like.

— Tim Bontemps

7. Philadelphia 76ers

When we last saw them …
The Sixers were just happy to put the 2019-20 season behind them, having been swept by the rival Celtics in the opening round. Head coach Brett Brown was fired the next day, and eventually was replaced by Doc Rivers, while Daryl Morey later was hired to run the front office, setting a new course for the franchise yet again.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 44-28

  • BPI: 42-30

  • FiveThirtyEight: 44-28

  • Caesars: 43.5 wins | Title odds: +1500

76ers in NBArank

  • Joel Embiid (14)

  • Ben Simmons (16)

  • Tobias Harris (57)

  • Seth Curry (91)

Breakout candidate: Joel Embiid

It’s strange to say this, given how much success he’s already had, but the table is set for Embiid to have an absolutely massive season. Rivers could be the coach who unlocks it. The Sixers have built a roster around him that should provide all the spacing Embiid will need; he has to be frustrated about not making an All-NBA team last season. He is capable of being the best player in the world, and winning both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season, if he puts it all together.

Pivot point for 2020-21: All eyes on Embiid and Simmons … again

For years now, the biggest question in Philadelphia has been: Can Embiid and Ben Simmons play together? This year is no different.

What is different, though, is the enormity of the question. This season truly feels like a referendum on the future of this All-Star partnership. Morey has spoken at length about wanting to get Philadelphia back to where it was a couple of years ago, when the Sixers had three shooters around Simmons and Embiid and they absolutely obliterated teams when those two shared the floor.

Philadelphia has steadily moved away from those lineups over the past couple of seasons, and the result has been the team’s two stars steadily playing worse together.

Now, though, the Sixers have put such a team back on the court. With Seth Curry, Danny Green and Tobias Harris around them, Simmons and Embiid should have lots of room to operate. Rivers has talked about using them in pick-and-rolls together. It all feels poised to finally, truly, answer the question of whether these two can be compatible, and whether a different question will be asked in Philadelphia next season.

— Bontemps

8. Denver Nuggets

When we last saw them …
A hobbled Jamal Murray and the Nuggets ran out of comeback magic and watched the Lakers win the Western Conference crown. The Nuggets pulled off two historic 3-1 series comebacks against the Jazz and Clippers as Murray emerged into a playoff hero alongside star center Nikola Jokic.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 45-27

  • BPI: 38-34

  • FiveThirtyEight: 44-28

  • Caesars: 44.5 wins | Title odds: +2000

Nuggets in NBArank

  • Nikola Jokic (10)

  • Jamal Murray (21)

  • Michael Porter Jr. (51)

Breakout candidate: Michael Porter Jr.

Porter exploded as a starter in the bubble’s seeding games and gained valuable playoff experience against the likes of LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Now Porter has every opportunity to prove that the Nuggets have a big three.

Pivot point for 2020-21: The comeback kids have a target on their backs

The Nuggets arrived ahead of schedule in the Western Conference finals after stunning the Clippers. But now the young Nuggets are playing with championship expectations and they won’t be able to hide in an even more competitive West. They can’t take a step back and suffer a letdown as the spotlight shines brighter on Murray, who raised his game in the playoffs and will have to play consistently like a star this season. Jokic will also have to continue to improve his versatile All-NBA game.

The Nuggets can’t be as inconsistent as they’ve been in the past regular seasons. They’ll now have teams gunning for them every night. After Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Torrey Craig departed in free agency, the Nuggets lost a lot of core glue guys and defense.

Michael Malone still has vets like Will Barton, Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green, Gary Harris and Monte Morris to lean on, but the head coach has a lot of new faces like Facundo Campazzo to integrate and he will have to place more trust in younger and unproven players like Porter Jr. and Bol Bol.

— Youngmisuk

9. Portland Trail Blazers

When we last saw them …
The Blazers were one of the darlings of the bubble, with Damian Lillard taking on all comers with 40-foot bombs. They took Game 1 from the Lakers and looked dangerous as a true playoff Cinderella, until Lillard injured his knee and thereby, ended Portland’s season. The Lakers won four straight and the Blazers left the bubble looking toward this season, where they will hopefully be healthy, deeper and built to compete at the upper level of the West.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 41-31

  • BPI: 40-32

  • FiveThirtyEight: 39-33

  • Caesars: 40.5 wins | Title odds: +3500

Trail Blazers in NBArank

  • Damian Lillard (7)

  • CJ McCollum (27)

  • Jusuf Nurkic (53)

  • Robert Covington (60)

Breakout candidate: Gary Trent Jr.

Trent had a breakout bubble, and with soaring confidence and teammates looking to get him shots, he could be poised for a big season as a 3-and-D wing. The Blazers are deeper at his position with the additions of Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr., but Trent could play a significant role off the bench for Portland.

Pivot point for 2020-21: How long will Portland run it back?

The Trail Blazers have been a picture of stability in the West over the last decade, with the same GM, same coach and same star player. In the modern NBA, that’s weirdly rare. And while the Blazers take immense pride in their sustained success (they’re second behind the Rockets for the longest active playoff streak), there’s always the pressure to push forward.

Lillard has been one of the most reasonable stars in the league when it comes to loyalty and collaboration with his organization, and the Blazers took steps this offseason to improve. They cashed in some draft capital to add Covington, Jones and Enes Kanter and returned Rodney Hood from injury. They have their core of Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, a trio that has one of the best net ratings in the league together.

Their bubble run established momentum and belief this team could return to the elite levels of the 2018-19 season, when they went to the Western Conference finals, but there are never any guarantees. The West is deep, and the Blazers fell in a hole last season because of a rash of injuries. If they start slow and start getting lost in the bottom half of the West again, does patience begin to run thin? Is there a major lever GM Neil Olshey would be willing to pull?

— Young

10. Dallas Mavericks

When we last saw them …
Luka Doncic was spectacular in his first NBA playoff series — highlighted by a 43-point triple-double capped by a game-winning buzzer-beater two days after spraining his ankle — but the Clippers knocked the Mavs out of the first round in six games. Defensive upgrades were Dallas’ offseason priority.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 43-29

  • BPI: 40-32

  • FiveThirtyEight: 42-30

  • Caesars: 42.5 wins | Title odds: +2500

Mavericks in NBArank

  • Luka Doncic (4)

  • Kristaps Porzingis (41)

  • Josh Richardson (80)

Breakout candidate: Luka Doncic

Is it wild to anticipate another big leap from a 21-year-old who was first-team All-NBA? Coach Rick Carlisle doesn’t think so, predicting after the Mavs’ playoff exit that Doncic would “come back even better with something new in his game — the same way Bird and Magic and Jordan, all those great players did every summer.” Doncic (31.6% on 3-pointers and 75.8% on free throws last season) has obvious room for improvement as a shooter. U.S. sportsbooks have actually made Doncic the consensus favorite to win MVP this season.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Is Kristaps Porzingis the star sidekick Dallas needs?

That would require the 7-foot-3 Porzingis, who has yet to finish an NBA season healthy, to be available for an entire playoff run. He’ll start this season on the sideline because he’s still recovering from the surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee, an injury that forced him to sit out the final few games of the Mavs’ first-round playoff series against the Clippers. The Mavs plan to ramp up Porzingis’ on-court activity in early January and hope that he will make his season debut at some point that month.

Of course, the Mavs understood that they were taking on some risk when they traded for Porzingis while he was recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee, a rehabilitation process that sidelined him for a season and a half.

Several scouts and executives around the league aren’t convinced yet that Porzingis is capable of being the second-best player on a championship team even if he is healthy. Those doubts were prevalent early last season, when Porzingis struggled to find his rhythm and develop a rapport with Doncic.

But Porzingis’ performance down the stretch last season offered plenty of reason for optimism, as he averaged 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in his final 21 regular-season games. How often can the Mavs count on having “The Unicorn” at his peak?

— Tim MacMahon


11. Toronto Raptors

When we last saw them …
The Raptors were exiting the bubble after losing a heartbreaking seven-game series to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Toronto valiantly defended its championship, and far better than most predicted after losing Kawhi Leonard.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 42-30

  • BPI: 49-23

  • FiveThirtyEight: 42-30

  • Caesars: 42.5 wins | Title odds: +2500

Raptors in NBArank

  • Pascal Siakam (24)

  • Kyle Lowry (30)

  • Fred VanVleet (40)

  • OG Anunoby (68)

Breakout candidate: OG Anunoby

Anunoby recovered from a lost season during Toronto’s title-winning year to get back on track to being one of the league’s most intriguing young wings last season. He’s clearly established himself as one of the game’s best defensive players — and arguably the best isolation defender in the league. If he can make a big leap offensively, he has a chance to become a bonafide star for the Raptors.

Pivot point for 2020-21: A season of change

The Raptors kept open their cap space to chase a max free agent next summer, but at the cost of losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol in free agency. The team is now being forced to play in Tampa, Florida, for an indefinite period of time. Kyle Lowry, the franchise’s all-time greatest player, is a year away from free agency himself — and won’t be able to be retained unless he takes a massive paycut in the event that a max player chooses Toronto. Add that all up and the Raptors are a team in transition in 2020-21.

How will the Raptors respond? If it’s anything like the past couple of seasons, it will be just fine. It is remarkable to think back to how Toronto was perceived before winning the title — back when it was jokingly referred to as “LeBronto” after numerous losses to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. Now, Toronto is seen as one of the league’s most mentally tough and resilient teams. To remain in the mix atop the East, they’ll need all that, and then some.

— Bontemps

12. Utah Jazz

When we last saw them …
Mike Conley’s 3-pointer at the Game 7 buzzer went in and out, bouncing the Jazz from the bubble after they built a 3-1 lead over the Nuggets. Donovan Mitchell was spectacular in his first-round duel with Jamal Murray when the Jazz desperately needed someone to fill the scoring void created by Bojan Bogdanovic’s injury absence.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 43-29

  • BPI: 41-31

  • FiveThirtyEight: 41-31

  • Caesars: 41.0 wins | Title odds: +4000

Jazz in NBArank

  • Donovan Mitchell (18)

  • Rudy Gobert (26)

  • Mike Conley (71)

  • Bojan Bogdanovic (73)

  • Joe Ingles (89)

Breakout candidate: Donovan Mitchell

There aren’t a lot of candidates, considering that Mitchell, 24, is the only Jazz rotation player who is younger than 27. But it’s certainly possible that he can take another giant leap, building off the momentum from his bubble breakout, highlighted by a pair of 50-plus-point playoff performances. Adding to Mitchell’s motivation: an All-NBA selection bumps the value of his freshly signed five-year extension from $163 million to $195 million.

Pivot point for 2020-21: What’s next in the Mitchell-Gobert partnership?

The Jazz never wavered from the plan to move forward with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell as the franchise’s foundational pieces. The internal belief, even in the most uncomfortable stretches of the NBA’s hiatus when the Utah co-stars’ rift dominated the headlines, was that they could continue to form a productive professional partnership even if they weren’t close friends.

That optimism was reaffirmed in the bubble, when Gobert and Mitchell played well together, with no indications that the previous issues between them would negatively impact their performance. They’re in “a good spot on the court,” Mitchell told reporters recently.

The Jazz went all-in on their All-Star duo this offseason, committing potentially as much as $400 million to lock up Gobert and Mitchell to five-year contract extensions. Utah has its franchise pillars in place for the foreseeable future.

The big question now: Can Gobert and Mitchell prove that they’re good enough to be the cornerstones of a legitimate contender?

This will require continued development of chemistry between the duo, particularly Mitchell maturing as a pick-and-roll playmaker. They also both need to make significant strides individually. Was Mitchell’s pull-up 3-point shooting efficiency in the playoffs a sign of things to come? Can Gobert make himself a threat on the short roll by making defenses respect the 10- to 12-foot jumper he worked on this offseason?

That development could be the difference between the Jazz being an expensive early playoff exit or a real threat in the West.

— MacMahon

13. Phoenix Suns

When we last saw them …
They just couldn’t lose. A long shot to make the playoffs — many outright wondered why they were even invited to the bubble — Phoenix shocked the league by winning all eight games they played in Orlando. They ended up missing the play-in game because of a tiebreaker, but it set the foundation.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 40-32

  • BPI: 47-25

  • FiveThirtyEight: 42-30

  • Caesars: 38.0 wins | Title odds: +3500

Suns in NBArank

  • Chris Paul (15)

  • Devin Booker (17)

  • Deandre Ayton (52)

Breakout candidate: Deandre Ayton

Ayton (18.2 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in 2019-20) already had a strong sophomore season, but with Chris Paul running the point now for the Suns, there’s no reason Ayton can’t take another jump. Paul has traditionally had success with whichever big man he’s played with, and his pick-and-roll prowess should help to unlock another part of Ayton’s game. If Phoenix has sustained on-court success, Ayton could become an All-Star.

Pivot point for 2020-21: What does the Point God have left?

We’re just 18 months removed from Houston having to attach two first-round picks and two pick swaps to Paul’s deal in a move that sent him from the Rockets to Oklahoma City. Paul shot a career-low 41.9% and averaged a career-low 15.6 points per game with Houston in 2018-19. There was concern if he could still play at an elite level.

He responded in a big way last season with the Thunder. Paul was named to the All-NBA second team with per-game averages of 17.6 points, 6.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 48.9% from the floor — the highest percentage he’s shot since 2009-10.

After their winning streak in the bubble, the playoffs feel possible for the Suns. If Phoenix wants to make it there, Paul needs to keep the magic and health he rediscovered in OKC.

— Andrew Lopez

14. New Orleans Pelicans

When we last saw them …
The Pelicans were struggling in the bubble on their way to a 2-6 mark in Orlando. After entering as a favorite to at least appear in the play-in game, New Orleans never got going and stumbled to a disappointing finish.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 36-36

  • BPI: 48-24

  • FiveThirtyEight: 37-35

  • Caesars: 35.0 wins | Title odds: +5000

Pelicans in NBArank

  • Zion Williamson (19)

  • Brandon Ingram (28)

  • Lonzo Ball (54)

  • Eric Bledsoe (67)

  • Steven Adams (70)

Breakout candidate: Zion Williamson

Williamson could make a jump in his second season for one simple reason: He’ll be healthy. Williamson has been downright giddy in preseason availabilities when talking about the lack of restrictions on him this season. He was already historically efficient as a rookie and if he’s 100%, there’s no reason to think he won’t be better in 2020-21.

Pivot point for 2020-21: What can Stan Van Gundy bring?

New Orleans brought in Van Gundy to install his style of play which is slightly different than the “run, run, run” style that Alvin Gentry wanted to play.

Van Gundy has finished 11 seasons as a coach in his time with the Heat, Magic and Pistons, and his teams were in the top half of the NBA in defensive rating 10 times — including his last three seasons in Detroit. His teams finished top 10 in defensive rating in eight of those seasons.

Van Gundy has talked about the Pelicans’ need to improve their communication on the defensive side — while also saying it’s hard for him to be quiet at times in practice to allow his players to make their own adjustments. It is something that’s steadily improving though.

For the Pelicans to make the playoffs this season, there needs to be a buy-in on that side of the floor. They swapped two-time All-Defensive team selection Jrue Holiday for two-time All-Defensive team selection Eric Bledsoe in the starting lineup, but Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Williamson all need to take steps forward.

— Lopez

15. Golden State Warriors

When we last saw them …
The Warriors were the worst team in the league last season with a 15-50 record. Steve Kerr and his team are hopeful that with a healthy and rested Stephen Curry they can win a lot of games with the help of Draymond Green and new additions Kelly Oubre Jr. and James Wiseman, but Klay Thompson’s season ending Achilles injury put a dent into any title hopes.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 36-36

  • BPI: 29-43

  • FiveThirtyEight: 32-40

  • Caesars: 37.5 wins | Title odds: +6000

Warriors in NBArank

  • Stephen Curry (8)

  • Draymond Green (44)

Breakout candidate: Kelly Oubre Jr.

The Warriors are banking on the 25-year-old to take another step in his development and become even more consistent on both ends of the floor. The key for Oubre — who is just a 32.9% career shooter from beyond the arc — will be to make more open 3-pointers while he’s playing off of Curry.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Tough decisions loom by The Bay

Joe Lacob and the Warriors ownership group are going to be paying an enormous tax bill to stay competitive in the rugged Western Conference, but without Thompson on the floor and with his future as an All-Star uncertain, the Warriors may be facing more difficult decisions sooner than they could have ever imagined. With Thompson and Wiggins already on the books for max extensions and Green starting his new four-year deal worth close to $100 million, the organization faces the realistic chance that they have so many bad deals on the books that it will be tough to work its way out of a potentially ugly cap situation.

How No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman develops could help. If he can become the talented big man they believe he is, it will give the Warriors both the young center they crave and another huge asset that they can build around or deal in the future.

— Friedell

16. Indiana Pacers

When we last saw them …
The Pacers were swept out of the opening round by the eventual conference champion Heat, but their bubble experience briefly turned T.J. Warren into a household name. Warren exploded for a career-high 53 points in the Pacers’ restart opener, leading to a selection to the NBA’s All-Bubble Team.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 39-33

  • BPI: 34-38

  • FiveThirtyEight: 37-35

  • Caesars: 38.5 wins | Title odds: +12500

Pacers in NBArank

  • Malcolm Brogdon (39)

  • Victor Oladipo (47)

  • Domantas Sabonis (50)

  • TJ Warren (63)

  • Myles Turner (74)

Breakout candidate: T.J. Warren

Although he’s entering his seventh season, Warren burst onto the scene during the Orlando restart. His ability to score has earned him the nickname “TJ Buckets,” but now he’s hoping to keep that going this season with Indiana trying to get past the opening round of the playoffs. Staying healthy is always the key.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Can Indy take the next step under Bjorkgren?

Indiana coach Nate McMillan’s 183 wins were the third most by a Pacers head coach since the team became an NBA franchise, trailing only Frank Vogel and Larry Brown. But McMillan led the Pacers to first-round losses in all four of his seasons as head coach, with three of them being sweeps.

Indiana isn’t comfortable with just reaching that point, which is why they hired former Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren to lead the team’s talent. That win-now approach certainly provides pressure, but that is only fueling Bjorkgren to get the most out of his key pieces such as Warren, Malcolm Brogdon, Aaron Holiday and other proven All-Star talent in Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

“Always pressure on the job — that’s what it’s about,” Bjorkgren said during training camp. “Getting your team ready to play in those situations and managing your team through the 72-game regular season that we’re gonna have this year. There’s always pressure.”

— Woodyard

17. Memphis Grizzlies

When we last saw them …
The Grizzlies had a lot of trouble in the bubble. Memphis went 2-6 in the seeding schedule — and lost Justise Winslow (hip) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee) to injuries that continue to sideline them — and exited after a play-in loss to Portland. The bright side: Ja Morant showed he can rise to the occasion with a 35-point, 8-assist performance in the play-in game despite a broken thumb.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 33-39

  • BPI: 31-41

  • FiveThirtyEight: 34-38

  • Caesars: 32.0 wins | Title odds: +10000

Grizzlies in NBArank

  • Ja Morant (31)

  • Jaren Jackson Jr. (43)

Breakout candidate: De’Anthony Melton

The Grizzlies made sure Melton didn’t go anywhere as a restricted free agent, signing the 22-year-old reserve guard to a four-year, $35 million contract. Melton, an excellent perimeter defender, had the best net rating (plus-5.1 points per 100 possessions) among Memphis rotation players last season. If he can improve as a shooter (28.6% on 3-pointers), Melton’s contract could be a bargain.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Will the gamble on Justise Winslow pay off?

Memphis made an expensive bet that Winslow would be a key piece of their young core when they acquired him in a trade with the Miami Heat. The Grizzlies took on the eight-figure salaries of Dion Waiters (immediately waived) and Gorgui Dieng (via Minnesota) as tax in the trade.

Winslow’s size (6-foot-6, 222 pounds), athleticism, defensive versatility and playmaking ability make him an intriguing fit in a supporting cast that complements young stars Morant and Jackson. But he had a concerning injury history before his arrival in Memphis and has added to it since.

He was recovering from a back injury and almost ready to make his Memphis debut when the pandemic halted the season. The Grizzlies are still waiting to get Winslow on the floor because a hip displacement suffered during a bubble practice prevented him from playing in the NBA’s restart.

— MacMahon

18. Houston Rockets

When we last saw them …
Mike D’Antoni was the coach, Daryl Morey was the general manager and Russell Westbrook was James Harden’s hobbled co-star when the Rockets got bounced by the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs. They all decided they wanted out of Houston, which hired Stephen Silas as coach, promoted Rafael Stone to general manager, traded Westbrook for John Wall and is waiting on a fair offer for Harden.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 32-40

  • BPI: 46-26

  • FiveThirtyEight: 44-28

  • Caesars: 34.5 wins | Title odds: +5000

Rockets in NBArank

  • James Harden (9)

  • Christian Wood (55)

  • P.J. Tucker (72)

  • John Wall (81)

Breakout candidate: Christian Wood

The Rockets are betting big on Wood, the skilled, athletic, 25-year-old big man who bounced around to five NBA franchises before signing a three-year, $41 million deal to come to Houston. Wood produced big numbers during his showcase period as a starter for the Pistons, averaging 21.9 points and 9.4 rebounds with a 64.7 true shooting percentage in a dozen games, which Houston hopes is a sign of things to come.

Pivot point for 2020-21: The Harden saga continues

Perhaps you’ve heard that the Rockets’ perennial MVP candidate has requested a trade. Harden’s situation isn’t just the biggest source of drama for the Rockets — it’s the juiciest soap opera in the league right now.

Harden has made it clear that he won’t be changing his mind. He chose to party in Atlanta and Las Vegas while the team started practicing, which was apparently Harden’s way of getting his point across to a franchise that isn’t rushing to accommodate his trade request. The Rockets’ front office isn’t panicking, holding firm that Harden won’t be traded until the Rockets receive an offer they consider fair value, which consists of a young franchise cornerstone and a bundle of first-round picks and/or young talent on a rookie deal.

Time, for now, is on the Rockets’ side with Harden under contract for two more seasons before he has a player option. In the meantime, get your popcorn ready.

How will a first-year head coach handle a superstar whose primary goal is to pack his bags? What kind of chemistry issues will come up with teammates — particularly John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, former All-Stars determined to make strong comebacks — well aware that Harden wants out? Will Harden even try to get in a defensive stance for the rest of his Rockets tenure?

— MacMahon

19. Orlando Magic

When we last saw them …
The Magic had some nice momentum at the start of the bubble, but that came crashing down when Jonathan Isaac suffered a season-ending torn left ACL as they were knocked out by the Bucks in the opening round. This year feels like many others in recent memory — it’s all about growth for younger players looking to take the next steps in their careers.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 31-41

  • BPI: 28-44

  • FiveThirtyEight: 35-37

  • Caesars: 32.0 wins | Title odds: +20000

Magic in NBArank

  • Nikola Vucevic (42)

  • Aaron Gordon (78)

Breakout candidate: Cole Anthony

Anthony was originally expected to be a top pick in last year’s draft, but a knee injury during his lone season at North Carolina altered his path. The Magic are hopeful that he’ll be able to show off that talent inside an offense that could badly use another playmaker. After seeing former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz’ growth last season, there’s reason to believe Anthony, the No. 15 pick last month, can have similar success on the offensive end.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Are the Magic stuck in neutral?

As has been the case for years, they are currently in arguably the worst place to be in pro sports: The middle. On top of Fultz’ and Anthony’s development, they’ve got to hope that 2019 first-rounder Chuma Okeke has a nice first year after missing all of last season while rehabbing from a knee injury.

Steve Clifford is one of the most respected coaches in the league, but he still doesn’t have the kind of star that every team needs to build around. The Magic haven’t been nationally irrelevant since trading Dwight Howard and desperately need their young core to continue to grow and develop together.

Do they trade Aaron Gordon and try to shake things up and build more assets? There aren’t a lot of moves that can get the Magic out of the hole of mediocrity they’ve created.

— Friedell

20. San Antonio Spurs

When we last saw them …
San Antonio, missing key pieces, went small in the bubble, giving DeMar DeRozan time at the four on their way to a 5-3 record in Orlando. However, it was the first time San Antonio missed the playoffs since the 1996-97 season — a streak of 22 straight seasons that tied an NBA record.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 31-41

  • BPI: 31-41

  • FiveThirtyEight: 34-38

  • Caesars: 30.0 wins | Title odds: +20000

Spurs in NBArank

  • DeMar DeRozan (82)

  • Dejounte Murray (83)

  • LaMarcus Aldridge (95)

  • Derrick White (97)

Breakout candidate: Derrick White

White showed big improvement in the bubble, averaging 18.9 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 39.3% on his 3-pointers. White will form a pretty potent starting backcourt combination with Dejounte Murray.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Are the younger Spurs ready to shine?

Gregg Popovich and the Spurs found success in the bubble in part because of the commitment to the youth movement. With LaMarcus Aldridge out because of injury and Patty Mills set to rest (although he was eventually pressed into action), the Spurs’ plan was to go young. But there was still a spot for DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay to thrive.

Heading into the new season, how will Pop balance out the youth movement with the older veterans? DeRozan (31 years old, $27.7 million), Aldridge (35 years old, $24 million), Gay (34 years old, $14.5 million) and Mills (32 years old, $13.5 million) all are on expiring deals but all can still contribute at a high level.

With Murray and White in the backcourt, Lonnie Walker IV and draftees Devin Vassell and Tre Jones could fight for minutes there. Keldon Johnson, the Spurs’ 2019 first-round pick, was outstanding in the bubble (14.1 points, 5.0 rebounds, 63.8% shooting and 11-of-17 from deep in 26.1 minutes per game) and figures to get minutes this season. Trey Lyles and Jakob Poeltl also figure to get minutes in the frontcourt.

How the team balances the young and the old could determine if they swing and miss on the postseason or start a new streak.

— Lopez

21. Washington Wizards

When we last saw them …
The Wizards left the bubble 1-7 as a team that shouldn’t really have been playing in the restart. Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans did not play in the bubble and Washington gave valuable development time to the likes of Rui Hachimura.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 35-37

  • BPI: 33-39

  • FiveThirtyEight: 25-47

  • Caesars: 32.5 wins | Title odds: +10000

Wizards in NBArank

  • Bradley Beal (22)

  • Russell Westbrook (36)

  • Davis Bertans (61)

Breakout candidate: Rui Hachimura

The Wizards are high on Hachimura, taken ninth overall in 2019. As a rookie, he averaged 13.5 points and 6.1 rebounds but scored 20 or more points in two of his last three games in the bubble. Hachimura and Bertans could have plenty of scoring opportunities while defenses load up on stars Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook.

Pivot point for 2020-21: The new star duo in D.C.

The Wizards officially turned the franchise over to Beal when they traded John Wall. But it remains to be seen how Westbrook and Beal will mesh together and how much the former MVP defers.

Beal flourished in Wall’s absence last season and averaged 30.5 points and 6.1 assists in an increased playmaking role. The guard is under contract through 2022-23 with a player option for that season. Westbrook, who is reuniting with former Thunder coach Scott Brooks, is looking for a place to re-establish roots after one season in Houston. Brooks will have to find a way to balance the offense with the two guards used to having the ball in their hands. There are a lot of similarities between Wall and Westbrook, but Wall and Beal never were able to get past the second round together.

The Wizards are banking on Westbrook’s mere presence improving the young roster with his relentless competitiveness and work ethic.

— Youngmisuk

22. Atlanta Hawks

When we last saw them …
The Hawks were one of the eight NBA teams that saw their season end in March when the pandemic halted play. Atlanta played in one of four games that were completed on the last day, losing 136-131 to the Knicks. Most memorable thing about that contest? It was Vince Carter’s final NBA game and the vet hit a 3-pointer in overtime for his final NBA bucket.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 35-37

  • BPI: 25-47

  • FiveThirtyEight: 35-37

  • Caesars: 34.5 wins | Title odds: +12500

Hawks in NBArank

  • Trae Young (29)

  • Bogdan Bogdanovic (62)

  • John Collins (84)

  • Danilo Gallinari (85)

Breakout candidate: Bogdan Bogdanovic

Bogdanovic went looking for a bigger role and he may have found it in Atlanta. In three seasons in Sacramento, Bogdanovic averaged 28.2 minutes per game; he may not have that much more in Atlanta but he could have a larger role in the offense. In the preseason, Bogdanovic has started and come off the bench and has shown to be a valuable asset either way.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Are all the additions enough?

Atlanta added a lot of new pieces in the offseason: Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn, Solomon Hill all signed in free agency, and the team drafted Onyeka Okongwu with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft. Oh, by the way, they also are just getting a taste of what they have in center Clint Capela, acquired last February but never played with Atlanta last season.

The push to make the playoffs is here. Atlanta could have continued to let young talent in Cam Reddish, Deandre Hunter and Kevin Huerter grow alongside All-Star point guard Trae Young and forward John Collins. With this offseason, they accelerated the process.

— Lopez

23. Minnesota Timberwolves

When we last saw them …
It’s been 10 months since the Wolves last played a game, a loss to the Rockets on March 10 where D’Angelo Russell dropped 28 points. It was the end of a disappointing season but also the end of any opportunity to work on the new Karl-Anthony Towns/Russell partnership. They’d only played one game together before Towns injured his wrist, so this season will be the first real look at what they can do together.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 28-44

  • BPI: 30-42

  • FiveThirtyEight: 35-37

  • Caesars: 29.0 wins | Title odds: +20000

Timberwolves in NBArank

  • Karl-Anthony Towns (23)

  • D’Angelo Russell (79)

  • Ricky Rubio (93)

Breakout candidate: Jarrett Culver

It’s only Year 2 for Culver, but it feels like the clock is already ticking. His rookie season was rough — with a few positive flashes — but as the Wolves evaluate their young talent, Culver could be expendable. And they also used the No. 1 pick on a player who plays his position. But it’s still early for Culver, and with a season under his belt and some motivation, this could be a big year ahead to show signs of improvement.

Pivot point for 2020-21: A closer look at the Towns-Russell duo

The one game they played together last season showed the Wolves there was reason for hope in the Towns-Russell partnership, but it left some unknowns. They’ve added the No. 1 overall pick in Anthony Edwards, along with some other pieces like prodigal son Ricky Rubio, but this Wolves team is focused on a leap forward.

Towns and Russell wanted to play together, and after the Wolves couldn’t get it done in the summer of 2019, they pulled the strings to make a trade, sending Andrew Wiggins to Golden State. Executives around the league have had an eye on Towns’ situation, wondering if he could be the next young All-Star to want a change of scenery. Trading for Russell was a step toward trying to accomodate Towns, but nothing accomplishes that more than winning.

And Towns has a big say in that part. The Wolves view their outlook developmentally, trying to create a window for multiple successful seasons. They are preaching patience and process, but good players can get impatient. There’s no pressure on the Wolves to win — yet — but if there aren’t positive signs of progress, things could get a little tense in Minnesota.

— Young

24. Chicago Bulls

When we last saw them …
The Bulls snapped their three-game losing skid at home against the Cavaliers on March 10. Then-rookie guard Coby White ended with a team-high 20 points, but the playoffs were already well out of reach. A new regime in Chicago is looking to change that.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 28-44

  • BPI: 18-54

  • FiveThirtyEight: 25-47

  • Caesars: 28.5 wins | Title odds: +15000

Bulls in NBArank

  • Zach LaVine (56)

  • Otto Porter Jr. (98)

Breakout candidate: Coby White

The rookie season for the North Carolina product was a rollercoaster, but there’s no denying his flashes of strong play. White has proven he can light it up from beyond the arc and score in bunches, but it’s still not set in stone whether or not he’ll be a starter. He has to improve at ball handling and playmaking to really establish himself on the NBA level, but he has the tools.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Can this makeover save the Bulls?

Zach LaVine has proven to be must-see TV with his high flying acts and natural ability to put the ball in the hoop, but can his style of play lead the Bulls back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016-17? The Bulls have completely reshaped its front office and leadership to support him, with the hiring of Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations, general manager Marc Eversley and new head coach Billy Donovan.

Chicago was plagued with injuries last year, with the sixth most games missed due to injury, according to Spotrac.com. Their win percentage (.310) over the past three seasons is the second worst in the NBA during that span behind the Knicks. With key pieces such as LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., White and Thaddeus Young, Donovan sees a lineup with a lot of potential. He’s proven his ability to get the most out of young rosters with the job he did in Oklahoma City last season.

With all of the offseason moves, Chicago has certainly shown it is not satisfied with back-to-back 22-win seasons.

— Woodyard

25. Sacramento Kings

When we last saw them …
It was a comedy of errors for the Kings in the Orlando bubble. From missing several key pieces at the beginning of the restart because of COVID-19 to Richaun Holmes receiving an additional 10-day quarantine for breaking the perimeter to pick up chicken wings to Marvin Bagley III’s season-ending foot injury, it’s a time they’d rather forget.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 28-44

  • BPI: 35-37

  • FiveThirtyEight: 31-41

  • Caesars: 29.0 wins | Title odds: +20000

Kings in NBArank

  • De’Aaron Fox (34)

  • Buddy Hield (87)

Breakout candidate: Marvin Bagley III

The former Duke big man had no control over being selected ahead of Luka Doncic on draft night and the comparisons that would bring for the rest of his career to Dallas’ do-everything guard. What he can control is what he does in his third season to live up to the promise the Kings saw in him in the first place.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Is Luke Walton on the hot seat?

The Kings brought in Monte McNair to replace Vlade Divac as general manager this offseason in a move that should signal two things: The organization is prioritizing analytics, and head coach Luke Walton might be on borrowed time. Walton, of course, was hand-selected by Divac and got the job almost immediately after parting ways with the Lakers in 2019. McNair learned at the hand of Daryl Morey in Houston, spending 13 seasons working his way up the Rockets’ ranks. That is to say, he has had a long time to contemplate how he would run the show if he was ever granted the top seat. With Sacramento already riding a 14-year postseason drought, combined with an ambitious owner in Vivek Ranadive resetting the table with McNair, the pressure could be on Walton to show strides this season, or else.

— McMenamin

26. Oklahoma City Thunder

When we last saw them …
Luguentz Dort had the ball in his hands with a chance to send the Thunder to the second round, but James Harden blocked his 3-point attempt and OKC went down to the Rockets in seven games. It was the end of a successful, overachieving season for the Thunder, and also the end of the roster as we knew it as the table was set for a complete teardown.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 21-51

  • BPI: 27-45

  • FiveThirtyEight: 27-45

  • Caesars: 22.5 wins | Title odds: +40000

Thunder in NBArank

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (38)

Breakout candidate: Darius Bazley

The 20-year-old Bazley was a breakout player in the bubble, making dramatic improvements in his defense, shooting and ball handling. He’ll get more opportunity this season, potentially elevating to a starting role.

Pivot point for 2020-21: How many more deals for OKC?

They say if you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait 10 minutes. And the same goes for the roster right now. After an offseason with a flurry of trades, here’s a fun fact: Hamidou Diallo is currently the longest tenured Thunder player. There’s a clear transition to a rebuild underway, which leaves veterans like Al Horford, George Hill and Trevor Ariza very available on the trade market.

Horford’s situation is similar to Chris Paul’s last season. He’s on a hefty contract and is coming off what was perceived to be a down year. But back in a favorable role, Horford could quickly restore his reputation and trade value, prompting a contending team to weigh the risk of taking on his salary.

Hill is a qualified role player for any good team, and while Ariza won’t be joining the Thunder any time soon (it’s similar to the Andre Iguodala situation last season with Memphis), he’ll draw interest from contenders.

The Thunder are ready to play their young players, but will be playing the parallel game of increasing the trade value for the remaining vets. The trade rumors will flow around them all season, which could be a distraction for a young team, especially if they get off to a better-than-expected start.

— Young

27. Charlotte Hornets

When we last saw them …
The Hornets were on the outside of the bubble looking in after finishing with a 23-42 record, but Hornets coach James Borrego is confident his young team can challenge for a postseason berth this season. That’s contingent on new addition Gordon Hayward being able to find his All-Star form after signing a four-year, $120-million dollar deal last month.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 27-45

  • BPI: 21-51

  • FiveThirtyEight: 25-47

  • Caesars: 25.5 wins | Title odds: +40000

Hornets in NBArank

  • Gordon Hayward (45)

Breakout candidate: LaMelo Ball

The 19-year-old is secure in the belief that he can be a difference-maker in his rookie year. The question is how quickly his talent will translate in a league that consistently chews up and spits out high draft picks. Ball drew praise heading into the draft — some pundits believed he should have been the No. 1 pick — but now he gets to play for Michael Jordan on a team that believes it’s ready to take another step in its progression.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Is Hayward the Hornets’ ultimate wild card?

Much of the success or failure of the Hornets’ season centers around Hayward’s ability to fit in quickly. This was a big swing for Jordan and GM Mitch Kupchak to make — and a player Jordan had his eyes on for years. Can Hayward be the unifier for a young roster? Hayward appeared to have found his old form in Boston last season before another ankle injury set him off track, but a finger injury may sideline him to start this season.

If Hayward comes in and can click with former teammate Terry Rozier and be a veteran sounding board for young players like Ball, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk and P.J. Washington, the Hornets have reason to believe their transition into playoff contention can happen quickly. If Hayward can find the consistency in his game that he struggled with after the horrific ankle injury he suffered in his first game with the Celtics, then it’s an interesting bet for a team that isn’t usually in the conversation for high-level free agents.

But if the 30-year-old can’t find his old form, it’s a contract that will be an albatross with Charlotte headed into more mediocrity.

— Friedell

28. Detroit Pistons

When we last saw them …
Detroit suffered its fifth straight loss the last time they were in action March 11, falling to the 76ers on the road. This season is about finding an identity through a flurry of new additions and a front office change.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 22-50

  • BPI: 20-52

  • FiveThirtyEight: 17-55

  • Caesars: 23.0 wins | Title odds: +30000

Pistons in NBArank

  • Blake Griffin (65)

  • Jerami Grant (88)

Breakout candidate: Sekou Doumbouya

Although he spent the early portion of his rookie campaign with the Grand Rapids Drive of the G League, the 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward displayed flashes of promise at 19 years old. The French native and 15th overall pick in 2019 will continue to develop under Pistons coach Dwane Casey with limitless potential and a versatile skill set to thrive in today’s NBA with his unique size and build.

Pivot point for 2020-21: Will the flurry of moves translate into success?

New Pistons GM Troy Weaver vowed to be aggressive this offseason in free agency and the NBA draft. He lived up to his promise, adding a group of players the franchise hopes can complement Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose.

The Pistons were one of the busiest teams on draft night, leaving with four picks in Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee. They’ve also added veterans Delon Wright, Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Jahlil Okafor and hometown product Josh Jackson. Weaver has developed a reputation for having an eye for young talent, so although some of the moves may have seemed random to Pistons fans, Detroit was actively chasing talent, which has not been the case in recent years.

— Woodyard

29. New York Knicks

When we last saw them …
The Knicks were one of the eight teams left out of the bubble after yet another regular season to forget. They wound up with the eighth pick in the NBA draft, and with it took New York native Obi Toppin to add to a young core of R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, and also hired Tom Thibodeau as their head coach.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 22-50

  • BPI: 17-55

  • FiveThirtyEight: 23-49

  • Caesars: 22.5 wins | Title odds: +50000

Knicks in NBArank

  • Mitchell Robinson (92)

Breakout candidate: Mitchell Robinson

There are a lot of potential candidates on a team this young, but if Thibodeau is willing to let Robinson play through his mistakes, he could be in position for a significant leap. A long, athletic pogo stick of a center, Robinson has the potential to be a dynamic defensive presence. Playing for a coach like Thibodeau could unlock that potential. Or, conversely, his youthful mistakes and tendency to commit fouls could drive Thibodeau to leave him on the bench far more often than Knicks fans would like.

Pivot point for 2020-21: How will Thibs coach the young Knicks?

The Knicks have constructed one of the NBA’s youngest rosters, with not a single player over 30 years old. Clearly, they want to try to build for the future and to have young players like Barrett, Toppin and Robinson grow into the foundation of what would be the Knicks’ first consistent winning team since Carmelo Anthony led them to the playoffs in 2013.

At the same time, they hired the ultimate win-now coach in Thibodeau, a taskmaster proven to be a successful tactician over the course of his career, but one who hasn’t exactly proven patient through the ups-and-downs of coaching young players.

Thibodeau might not have much of a choice. The Knicks aren’t exactly chock full of talent, and even he must know, for all of his competitive fire, that his chances of leading this team to a potential playoff berth are remote. So, will he embrace young guys playing through struggles? Or will we see lots of Alec Burks, Julius Randle and Nerlens Noel instead of Barrett, Toppin and Robinson?

Fans will be praying they finally get some lottery luck and the right to take a prospect like Cade Cunningham next summer. But, in the meantime, all eyes will be on how the relationship between the young players and the veteran coach develops.

— Bontemps

30. Cleveland Cavaliers

When we last saw them …
The Cavs were one of the eight teams not invited to the bubble and finished the season tied with Minnesota for the second-worst record in the league. They only ended up with the No. 5 pick, selecting Isaac Okoro out of Auburn to add to their collection of young talent.

Win-loss projections

  • ESPN Forecast: 22-50

  • BPI: 13-59

  • FiveThirtyEight: 23-49

  • Caesars: 22.0 wins | Title odds: +50000

Cavaliers in NBArank

  • Kevin Love (64)

Breakout candidate: Darius Garland

In six games after the All-Star break, before Cleveland’s season was cut short, then-rookie Darius Garland was starting to put it together, averaging 13.3 points on 45.9% shooting from the field (39.1% from 3) and 4.2 assists. The skilled combo guard is being counted on to keep progressing in his second season.

Pivot point for 2020-21: What does Cleveland do with Love and Drummond?

Cleveland has close to $60 million locked up in Kevin Love and Andre Drummond for this season. Five years ago that might have been seen as a dominant front court, now it seems more like a challenge to keep both those guys on the court at the same time and be able to match the positionless basketball that has permeated the league.

Love, of course, gives the Cavs a link to the 2016 title team, has a reliable outside shot for a big man and continues to be a leader off the court when it comes to mental health awareness.

Drummond played just eight games with Cleveland after being acquired in a trade from Detroit before the season was shut down. With an uneasy free-agency market, despite that small sample size, Drummond opted in for the final year on his contract to stay with the Cavs. Now the question is whether the Cavaliers will be able to move either of them in order to stack some assets when it could be ready to compete for the playoffs down the line.

— McMenamin

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