Stats Insider NBA 20/21 Championship Rankings
The 2020-21 NBA offseason was the shortest ever, so it's no surprise that the opening month flew by too.
A calendar month into the season, the Stats Insider Futures model has crunched the numbers to give our championship odds. It's no surprise to see the defending champions at the top. The Brooklyn Nets have spiked since adding James Harden too. Still, despite the feeling of Finals inevitability sweeping over the league right now, there is plenty to dive into for all 30 teams.
1. LA Lakers
NBA Championship Win: 22.7%
The Los Angeles Lakers are sleepwalking through the 2020-21 NBA season. Few teams have ever made 11-4 look so easy. To put things in perspective, the Lakers have the best net rating in the NBA with LeBron James and Anthony Davis both playing a career-low 31.7 and 31.9 minutes per game.
Provided James and Davis remain healthy, the Lakers won't move from this #1 spot all season.
Lebron James FG%: 47.9%— SnipaDK (@SonicsKD) January 19, 2021
Kevin Durant 3pt: 48.4%
Do whatever you want with this information.
2. Brooklyn Nets
NBA Championship Win: 18.4%
James Harden arrived at the Brooklyn Nets and dropped a 30-point triple-double on day one. The reactions floated along the lines of "the Nets are coming out of the East."
We love an overreaction in the NBA. While the Nets are at a lofty 18.4% to win the NBA title according to the Stats Insider Futures model, Brooklyn's next game offered a more accurate picture of the journey they still must travel if they're to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy this season.
Beating the Bucks 125-123 is a great sign, but the little things, like DeAndre Jordan misreading a James Harden floater for a lob and being called for offensive interference, are things the Nets will need to work through.
And then there are the possible issues defensively. With a 13th-ranked 109.5 defensive rating right now, it's a number that can't drop any further if they're to make it out of the East like so many are already suggesting.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
NBA Championship Win: 11.3%
Giannis Antetokounmpo shot 1-10 from the free-throw line against the Dallas Mavericks and is hitting freebies at just a 57.5% clip this season, so that's something to look out for as the months go by.
The Milwaukee Bucks are otherwise cruising through the season. While not cruising quite to the extent the Lakers are, the Bucks are just behind in net rating at +10.6.
Jrue Holiday is integrating nicely on the defensive end; there was never a question about the impact he could have without the ball. With the ball, however, he's still finding his place as a scorer.
Like the Lakers, the Bucks will be a permanent fixture towards the top of the list should Antetokounmpo avoid any long-term injuries.
4. LA Clippers
NBA Championship Win: 10.1%
You've got two options: Two-time NBA champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP and four-time All-NBA Kawhi Leonard, and five-time All-NBA Paul George, unfortunately referred to as 'Playoff P' despite the credentials.
Which do you think is Player A here?
Believe it or not, Paul George is the guy shooting better, scoring more and dragging down more rebounds while also handing out a career-high 5.1 assists per game.
He has been incredible to start this season and the once semi-functional mess that was the 2019-20 LA Clippers finally look like the championship contenders they claimed to be last year.
5. Boston Celtics
Losing to the New York Knicks - with or without Jayson Tatum - is a slight cause for concern. If nothing else, it takes some of the shine off the Boston Celtics' five-game winning streak prior to the loss and 8-4record to start the season.
Jaylen Brown has been able to strut his stuff as Boston's number one guy as Tatum battles health and safety protocols along with Kemba Walker's absence and somewhat slow return. While the negative aspects of having games postponed dominate the discussion, giving Brown the platform to shine could well pay dividends down the track. There won't be such a reliance on Tatum in the playoffs if Brown can keep this up until then.
Payton Pritchard has also been able to get a few more shots up. He's notched up double-digit field goal attempts in three of his last five games.
The Celtics are good, but they're not in their Nets/Bucks tier just yet.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
Six Philadelphia 76ers are scoring in double-digits to start the 2020-21 season. Joel Embiid (25ppg), Tobias Harris (19.1ppg), Seth Curry (17.0ppg) and Ben Simmons (12.3ppg) were always expected to be up there in scoring, but it's the play of Shake Milton (16.9ppg) and Tyrese Maxey(11.4ppg) that highlights the improving balance of the team. Danny Green (9.6ppg) isn't far behind, either.
Maxey, in particular, is a pleasant surprise. The 20-year-old rookie has scored 10+ in six of his last seven games including 39 points against the Denver Nuggets last week.
Curry's return will shake up the rotation slightly, but the depth and variation available outside of the three stars are an encouraging sign.
Please don’t waste Joel Embiid’s MVP season, Sixers.— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) January 13, 2021
7. Denver Nuggets
An incredible playoff performance last season bloated expectations but a 6-7 start has stalled any discussions around the Denver Nuggets being a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.
If not for Nikola Jokic playing at an MVP level, it would all be a lot worse. The Serbian's 25 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game have kept the Nuggets afloat as they navigate, more worryingly, the third-easiest schedule in the NBA.
We talked about the importance of Michael Porter Jr. to Denver's championship aspirations. His absence makes this poor start easier to stomach and offers hope of a quick turnaround upon his return.
8. Dallas Mavericks
Similar to the Nuggets, the Dallas Mavericks have underperformed to start the season.
Again, like the Nuggets, Kristaps Porzingis missing time has hurt. They've lost three of the four games since his return while working him into the offence. But as bad as the numbers have been since Porzingis' return (the Mavericks are 10 points worse per 100 possessions with him on the court) his combination with Luka Doncic ultimately passes the eye test.
We can't be far away from 'should we be worried about the Mavericks?' chat. The short answer: no.
Luka Doncic passes Michael Jordan on the all-time triple-doubles list after notching his 29th today.— ESPN (@espn) January 17, 2021
It's only Luka's third season 🤯 pic.twitter.com/ecl7mrB8BB
9. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz are a prime example of why we shouldn't be worried about the Nuggets or Mavericks. They started the 2019-20 season in similar fashion before finishing 6th in the West. Even this year, after losing fourof their first seven, the Jazz have rattled off five wins in a row to be 9-4 and behind only the Lakers and Clippers.
Donovan Mitchell is leading the way with 23.2 points per game. Mike Conley has found some form. The $205 million meme's about Rudy Gobert's extension have gone quiet as he posts 12.2 points, 13.3 rebounds, 2.7 blocks and has the Jazz playing with a 100.8 defensive rating while on the floor.
This is a classic Jazz season; defence is the key.
10. Miami Heat
Few beaten NBA finalists have ever worked through the first month of the following season with as little fanfare as the 2020-21 Miami Heat.
Quite frankly lucky to have been there at the pointy end of last season, the Heat have regressed to start 5-7 without offering quite the same reasons for optimism as the likes of the Nuggets and Mavericks. With a 19th-ranked 108.5 offensive rating and 22nd-ranked 112.0 defensive rating, Miami can't rely on either side of the ball at the moment.
With elite talent and grossly underrated head coach, the Heat will go on a run sooner or later. However, it looks as though they will pull up well short of another Finals appearance.
11. Toronto Raptors
The Chris Boucher coming out party is reaching max-capacity as the bandwagon fills behind this 28-year-old feel-good story. A relative unknown before this season, Boucher is averaging 16.1 points, 7.0rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game through 13. His 0.322 win shares per 48 minutes leads the league.
Boucher's numbers haven't translated into Toronto Raptors wins, though. At 5-8, the 2018-29 NBA Champions are ahead of just the Washington Wizards and Detroit Pistons to be 13th in the Eastern Conference.
To make another comparison to a team above on this list, the Raptors are similar to the Heat. Their run will come.
Chris Boucher last 6 games— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 19, 2021
-23 PTS - 10 REB - 3 BLK - 75 FG% - 50 3P%
-15 PTS - 6 REB - 6 BLK - 60 FG% - 66 3P%
-20 PTS - 8 REB - 3 BLK - 58 FG% - 62 3P%
-25 PTS - 10 REB - 2 BLK - 66 FG% - 50 3P%
-20 PTS - 9 REB - 2 BLK - 71 FG% - 50 3P%
-21 PTS - 10 REB - 3 BLK - 66 FG% pic.twitter.com/GPIxLAo7A8
12. Phoenix Suns
There is a really nice balance to the Phoenix Suns at the moment.
Devin Booker and Chris Paul are contributing 35.6 points and 12.9 assists per game between them.
Deandre Ayton is chiming in with 12.9 points, 8.7 rebounds and a block per game at the centre position.
Cameron Johnson and even Cameron Payne (yes, the Cameron Payne OKC, CHI, and CLE all gave up on) are contributing well off the bench.
Phoenix were slated for the playoffs the second Paul arrived in town. His leadership and experience is already paying dividends on a team that still has so much potential. Booker, in particular, isn't producing anywhere close to his best basketball at the moment.
13. Indiana Pacers
The remainder of the Indiana Pacers' season depends on the health of Caris LeVert.
Choosing to move on from Victor Oladipo who never looked the same following his knee injury, their plans for LeVert hit a snag before he even arrived.
With LeVert healthy, their offence is an exciting prospect. LeVert, Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis could all average 20+ points per game and provide the Pacers with a hot hand every night. Without him, the Pacers are short of quality and loom as potential playoff fodder for more rounded opponents.
14. Portland Trail Blazers
First Jusuf Nurkic sustained a wrist injury set to keep him out until at least March 12.
Shortly after, scans revealed a small hairline fracture in CJ McCollum's left foot, which won't be re-evaluated for another four weeks.
At 8-6 in a crowded Western Conference with the Nuggets and Mavericks coming for them in the playoff seeds, Damian Lillard once again has his work cut out for him keeping the Blazers afloat through to mid-March when Nurkic and McCollum return.
15. Golden State Warriors
Anything is possible while Steph Curry is doing Steph Curry things.
His recent play has put an end to any speculation that Curry's "done", "washed".
It's all Curry or nothing for the Warriors, though.
He's scoring 33.4 points shooting 40.9% from deep and handing out 6.9 assists in Golden State's wins. Those numbers drop to 22.2 points, 29.8%and 5.5 in losses.
16. Atlanta Hawks
Brad Botkin of CBS Sports took a swing at Trae Youngand did not miss: "The guy plays like he's Steph Curry, and you can tell he really believes that, but he shot 32% from 3 in his rookie season. He shot 36% last season, the same mark he tallied in his lone college campaign. He's never actually been a great shooter."
It's hard to argue when he's putting up horrible shots like this:
That shot came a week after John Collins called out Young and the way he ran the offence.
Overall, Young's less than stellar play, particularly his 22.7% shooting from deep, has contributed to a start to the season among the most disappointing in the NBA.
17. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets caught the post-trade bump in the wake of James Harden's departure to beat the San Antonio Spurs. However, they've lost their last two. Victor Oladipo scoring 32 points in his Rockets debut still ended in defeat to the Chicago Bulls.
Championship contenders with Harden in the team, the Rockets are now in the NBA's middling areas. There is no worse place for a franchise to be.
This year is all about evaluating what they've got and planning for the future. In better news, they've lucked out with the addition of Christian Wood who has caught fire for 23.8 points and 10.7rebounds per game.
18. New Orleans Pelicans
Basketball-Reference's Simple Rating System about sums the New Orleans Pelicans up at the moment.
Their -1.14 is just below league average for 17th in the league.
That's the Pelicans: just below average.
19. Orlando Magic
Tune into Nikola Vucivic if given a chance.
Vucivic leads the NBA in Offensive Box Plus/Minus to start the season at +8.7. He's just ahead of the other Nikola, Jokic, at +8.5.
Scoring a career-high 22.9 points while shooting a barmy 42.5% from deep on 6.2 attempts per game, 'Vuc' makes the Magic worth watching despite their current six-game losing streak.
20. Washington Wizards
Net Rating with Westbrook on: -2.6
Net Rating with Westbrook off: +0.8
The Washington Wizards are 3-8 to start the season. Two of the three wins came without Westbrook, both by 21 points. He's missed a handful of games to injury, but perhaps to Washington's detriment, they've come while the team is riddled with Covid and isolating away from the rest of the league.
Westbrook is polarising. He at least makes the Wizards interesting following years of being pushed further down the League Pass Rankings. He doesn't, however, make them any good.
21. San Antonio Spurs
It's still strange for long-time NBA fans to see the San Antonio Spurs this low so early in a season. Once with a mortgage on a playoff spot and always in with a sniff of championship contention, the Spurs of today aren't close to that level.
DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills all scored 20+ points against the Blazers on MLK Day - great production in a solid win. All four are over 30-years old, though. They're 8-6now, but this ageing team has a long way to go if they're to hold onto a spot in the post-season.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves
- 3-9 record - 15th in the West
- 105.0 ORtg - 26th
- 114.9 DRtg - 29th
- -9.9 NRtg - 30th
23. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies are riding a third-ranked 106.2 defensive rating through a five-game winning streak. Most importantly, Ja Morant has returned from his injury to be part of the last two. To get through a period without Morant to be above .500 and in the playoff picture is an impressive feat for this group.
Jaren Jackson Jr. is still to join the team for the first time this season, too. There is no clear time table for his return, but the man himself claims "it's not that far".
If the Grizzlies can continue to play at this level defensively through to Jackson Jr's return, they'll have their eyes a lot higher than the 8th seed.
24. Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings lack elite talent right now. De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes, Marvin Bagley and even Tyrese Haliburton are all serviceable players. Still, none have proven capable of putting the team on their back every night.
Fox is doing the best he can. His 29.5% usage rate is similar to that of Westbrook, Brandon Ingram and Kawhi Leonard.
The Kings starting lineup can compete with any other in the NBA. It's the bench and lack of depth at their disposal that lets them down.
25. Chicago Bulls
Zach LaVine is on one to start the season. He's scoring 27.4 points per game along with 4.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists. His numbers have so far led the Chicago Bulls to a passable 6-8 for 9th in the East.
The key now is to sustain this level for the season. We've seen the Bulls producing promising periods before, only to work through an equally poor period shortly after.
Whether or not the Bulls keep it up, they're likely to be a fixture in trade discussions. LaVine's play is already being talked about as more beneficial for his trade value than the long-term outlook of the Bulls.
26. Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo Ball became the youngest player in NBA history to register a triple-double. His 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists in 25.2 minutes per game off the bench have helped the Charlotte Hornets to a 6-8 record to start the season. Gordon Hayward is getting into his work for 22.2 points per game as well.
The Hornets have a strong enough seven or eight-man rotation to compete. They're a playoff chance if the injury-gods shine over them.... Over Hayward, in particular.
27. New York Knicks
The 7-8 Knicks are fun.
They're unlikely to be as good as 7-8 suggests for the full season, but finally, they're worth watching.
We covered their start to the season in-depth here: What To Make Of The New York Knicks' Encouraging Start?
28. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder are doing it again...
They're overachieving to be 6-6 and just 0.5 games back on a playoff seed.
Do they want it?
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
The hot starting Cleveland Cavaliers have cooled off. Winning their first three games of the season, Cleveland has won just three of their ten games since. Remarkably, they are still playing with the second-bestdefensive rating in the NBA.
Collin Sexton's absence has hurt the team and stalled the development of his combination with Darius Garland. We're not putting a line through the Cavaliers just yet though. Sexton's return could yet trigger another winning run. There is increasing speculation too that they will move Andre Drummond, along while Kevin Love, especially now that Jarrett Allen is in town.
If nothing else, the Cavaliers are an interesting team to follow at the moment.
30. Detroit Pistons
Miami Heat commentator Eric Reid can cover Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons 3-10 start to the season.
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