The Torch NBA Power Rankings: The Battle of L.A.

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The Torch NBA Power Rankings: The Battle of L.A.

The Los Angeles Clippers' acquisition of Kawhi Leonard (left) and Paul George make them the team to beat for the 2109-2020 NBA season.

The Los Angeles Clippers' acquisition of Kawhi Leonard (left) and Paul George make them the team to beat for the 2109-2020 NBA season.

The Los Angeles Clippers' acquisition of Kawhi Leonard (left) and Paul George make them the team to beat for the 2109-2020 NBA season.

The Los Angeles Clippers' acquisition of Kawhi Leonard (left) and Paul George make them the team to beat for the 2109-2020 NBA season.

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The 2019-2020 NBA season kicks off tonight, Tuesday, Oct. 22, with two games on the slate. The first, at 8:00 p.m. features the New Orleans Pelicans at the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors. This game was scheduled as the season opener because it was to feature the first overall pick of the 2019 draft, Duke phenom Zion Williamson making his NBA debut with the Pelicans. However, Williamson will miss the first six-to-eight weeks of the season after undergoing knee surgery. Tonight’s second game, with a 10:30 p.m. tipoff, promises to be a preview of a season-long battle for the Western Conference title between the two teams from Los Angeles, the Clippers and the Lakers.  

With what is thought to be one of the most eventful and tumultuous off-seasons ever (see story here), this NBA season is bound to be a crazy one. With big free agent signings, to blockbuster trades, this season will be one for the record books. To put it in perspective, more than one-third of all of the players in the NBA last year are now on a different team, a first for the NBA. Lookingahead to what is in store, here are the 2019-2020 Torch NBA power rankings: 

1. L.A Clippers (2018-19 record: 48-34)
Key Acquisitions: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George
Key Departures: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari
With a surprising playoff birth in 2019, and the ability to take the once stacked Warriors team to six games, this Clippers team is set to make a long playoff run by adding finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who was third in the MVP voting last year. What puts them ahead of the other finals contenders is their bench depth that can get up to thirteen deep.

2. L.A Lakers (37-45)    
Key Acquisitions: Anthony Davis, Danny Green
Key Departures: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart
After finally pulling off the trade that was fully expected, the Lakers took a gamble by giving up a lot of their future just for the opportunity for LeBron and Anthony Davis to play together. With what seems to be the best duo to play in the NBA since Kobe and Shaq, this Lakers team will ride on the back of this duo deep into the playoffs.

3. Milwaukee Bucks (60-22)   
Key Acquisitions: Wesley Matthews
Key Departures: Malcolm Brogdon
Coming off the best record in the NBA last year, the Bucks and the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo are poised to come out of the East this year. What may be overlooked is the loss of SG Malcolm Brogdon, who was in the 50-40-90 club, which means shooting 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the three-point line, and 90 percent from the free throw line. This team was expected to make it to the finals last year, but ran into Kawhi Leonard, so with him out west now, there is nothing holding the Bucks back this year.

4. Houston Rockets (53-29)    
Key Acquisitions: Russell Westbrook
Key Departures: Chris Paul
After not playing with each other for 7 years, the Westbrook/Harden duo is finally reunited. After a finals run for the OKC Thunder in 2011-2012, Harden departed to the Rockets to win one MVP and two runner-ups, while Westbrook won one MVP. So this duo, along with key role players that made the Rockets a 53-win team last year, should make this team a real finals contender.

5. Utah Jazz (50-32)
Key Acquisitions: Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic
Key Departures: Ricky Rubio
After a surprising five seed last year, the Utah Jazz have a very healthy mix of young talent and established players. Their young phenom Donovan Mitchell has led them to the playoffs both of his years in the league, with help from two-time DPOY Rudy Gobert. They added 20 ppg scorer, Bojan Bogdanovic, who will help spread the floor for Mitchell to do his thing. The Jazz also added Mike Conley, who is an upgrade from Ricky Rubio just because of the fact that he is such a great shooter. This team will be lost in the shuffle in the loaded west, but has a chance to make a deep playoff run.

6. Denver Nuggets (54-28) 
Key Acquisitions: Michael Porter Jr, Jerami Grant
Key Departures: none
A quiet offseason is exactly what this team needed. After a surprising jump from the ninth seed in 2017-18, to a two seed last year, the young core of Nikola Jokic and Jamaal Murray should carry this team for years to come. Michael Porter Jr, who was thought to be the steal of the 2018 draft, was injured all last year, so he could be a dark horse for Rookie Of the Year this year.

7. Portland Trail Blazers (53-29)
Key Acquisitions: Hassan Whiteside
Key Departures: Moe Harkless, Al Farouq Aminu
With only two returning starters from last year in Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum, and with Jusuf Nurkic being hurt for at least half of the season, this team once again will ride with their star-studded backcout. When Nurkic comes back, there is a lot of potential for this team because Hassan Whiteside becomes expendable and could potentially be traded for a big asset.

8. Philadelphia 76ers (51-31)
Key Acquisitions: Al Horford, Josh Richardson
Key Departures: Jimmy Butler, JJ Reddick
Building around a back-to-the-basket player has not been the key to success in recent history, but this 76ers team is hoping that it will work for them as they have probably the best center in the NBA, Joel Embiid. Around Embiid is Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford, which is quite possibly the best starting lineup in the NBA, but the concern for this team is their ability to spread the floor and their depth. With JJ Reddick gone, Tobias Harris becomes their best perimeter shooter, and then the drop off from there is huge.

9. Boston Celtics (49-33)
Key Acquisitions: Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter
Key Departures: Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Terry Rozier III
After a quite disappointing season to manyof their fans, the Celtics shook it up this offseason. After Kyrie Irving ‘s media blunder saying that he was 100 percent going to resign, he snaked the organization and decided to sign with the Brooklyn Nets along with someone else who had snaked their former organization in the past. The Celtics replaced Irving with Kemba Walker, who was an all-star starter last year, and arguably had a better season than Irving, but the loss of Al Horford may have a bigger impact than anyone could imagine. Horford was the anchor of this team’s defense last year, which had the sixth best defensive rating according to NBA.com/stats. The Celtics are replacing Horford with Enes Kanter, who is not known for his defensive ability. The Celtics are banking on Jayson Tatum to take a huge leap forward from what he did last year, and on Jaylen Brown who is trying to prove that he is max contract worthy.

10. Golden State Warriors (57-25)
Key Acquisitions: D’Angelo Russell, Willie Cauley-Stein
Key Departures: Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala
Although they lost arguably the best player in the NBA, in Kevin Durant, the Warriors managed to not lose him for nothing, pulling off a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets and receiving D’Angelo Russell. The reason this team is not ranked higher after five straight finals appearances is the fact that they lost all-star SG Klay Thompson until at least February due to a torn ACL that he suffered in the finals last June. If this team can stay afloat until Klay comes back, they are always a dangerous team to go up against in the playoffs, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they are a four seed and make it to the NBA finals. The most intriguing story for the Warriors is how two-time MVP Steph Curry and all-star D’Angelo Russell will be able to play alongside each other. Curry is a frontrunner for MVP this year due to the fact that the last time Kevin Durant wasn’t on the team, he won back-to-back MVPs.

11. Miami Heat (39-43)
Key Acquisitions: Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro
Key Departures: Josh Richardson, Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside
With a disappointing end to last year’s season, the Heat lucked out in the draft by picking Tyler Herro, SG from Kentucky, with the thirteenth pick. They added a legitimate closer in Jimmy Butler, who is looking for a bounce-back season, as he was not prominently featured in the Philadelphia 76ers offense. They are continuing to develop their young talent, Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow, while also going out and making moves for already established players.

12. Indiana Pacers (48-34)
Key Acquisitions: Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren
Key Departures: Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young
This team surprised many when their all-star SG Victor Oladipo, went down with a ruptured quad tendon in his knee which will sideline him for some amount into this upcoming season. Their top scorer last year, Bojan Bogdanovic signed elsewhere in free agency, leaving them with a gaping hole that they hope will be filled by TJ Warren and Malcolm Brogdon. They will experiment with their two big men, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, being on the floor at the same time, with the hope that they can develop these two young bigs, both age 23.

13. San Antonio Spurs (48-34)
Key Acquisitions: none
Key Departures: none
Running it back is the theme in San Antonio this year, as they neither lost nor gained anyone of much value. But the return of Dejounte Murray, who missed all of last year with a torn ACL, should be very influential in the way this team performs throughout the year. The Spurs have had a spot in the playoffs for the last 20 years, so expect this team to be at least a six seed.

14. Brooklyn Nets (42-40)
Key Acquisitions: Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Deandre Jordan
Key Departures: D’Angelo Russell
In what was probably the greatest surprise of the offseason, the Brooklyn Nets pulled off two of the biggest moves we saw in the signing of Irving and Durant. Unfortunately, they did have to let D’Angelo Russell walk, but the additions of Irving and Durant should more than make up for that. The reason this team is so low is because Durant will be out of the entire 2019-20 season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in the Western Conference Finals last season.

15. Sacramento Kings (39-43)
Key Acquisitions: none
Key Departures: Willie Cauley-Stein
The Kings might have been the most surprising team last season, but there is still a lot more room to grow. Third-year PG De’Aaron Fox is looking to build on his incredible sophomore season, and former second overall pick Marvin Bagley III is poised to take a huge step from his rookie year. Keeping this young core together this offseason and not going out and making a huge move was the exact thing this team needed, and the hiring of new head coach Luke Walton should propel this team to its first playoff appearance since 2006.

16. New Orleans Pelicans (33-49)
Key Acquisitions: Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, JJ Reddick, Derrick Favors
Key Departures: Anthony Davis
After franchise player, Anthony Davis requested a trade, this team looked to be in horrible shape. But somehow, this team got an incredible haul for Davis, including three players and a plethora of first round picks from the Lakers. The Pelicans invested a lot in their future, and then caught a little bit of luck when they won the NBA draft lottery and drafted a generational talent in Zion Williamson. In terms of talent, this Pelicans team might be towards the top of the league, but because this team is very young, they can’t be ranked in the top half of the league, especially since it was just revealed that Williamson will miss the first six-to-eight weeks of the season after knee surgery to repair a torn right lateral meniscus.

17. Orlando Magic (42-40)
Key Acquisitions: Markelle Fultz
Key Departures: none
The Magic opted to stick to the quiet side this offseason. The only move they made was trading for former first overall pick, Markelle Fultz, who for the most part was in a bad situation in Philly/ The Magic decided to take a flyer on Fultz in hopes that he can maybe turn into the player everyone thought he was going to be. They also re-signed all-star Nikola Vucevic, but that was expected by most of all around the NBA.

18. Toronto Raptors (58-24)
Key Acquisitions: none
Key Departures: Kawhi Leonard
From being NBA champions, to underdogs in one season doesn’t happen very often, but this is what happened with this Raptors team. They lost their best player, finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard, and now they are back to the drawing board, looking for a repeat of what they did last season. They invested in their future by extending Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam to a four-year $130 million dollar deal. They also gave PG Kyle Lowry a one year $31 million dollar extension, which will likely be his last contract with the Raptors due to his being 33 years old.

19. Chicago Bulls (22-60)
Key Acquisitions: Tomas Satoransky, Coby White
Key Departures: none
The Bulls had a very underrated offseason because of the fact that they didn’t make any big moves. They used the sixth overall pick to take UNC PG Coby White and went out and signed PG Tomas Satoransky, who has been a quality back-up to John Wall on the Wizards. When Wall got hurt last year, Satoransky had his chance to shine as he was a starter for most to all year. The Bulls have one of the younger teams in the league, as their whole starting lineup from last year was under 26 years old.

20. Dallas Mavericks (33-49)
Key Acquisitions: Kristaps Porzingis
Key Departures: none
With what could be the best young duo the NBA has seen in a long time in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, this Mavericks team is poised to be a contender for the foreseeable future. They don’t have their first round picks for the next few years due to the Porzingis trade, and the big weakness of this team is their depth beyond their top two.

21. Detroit Pistons (41-41)
Key Acquisitions: Derrick Rose
Key Departures: none
This team rode on the backs of their all-star PF Blake Griffin last year, and they are looking to do the same thing this year. They added solid role players like Derrick Rose, Tony Snell, and Joe Johnson, and they are hoping second year SG Luke Kennard can take a leap from his underwhelming rookie season last year. They were barely an eight seed last year, but look for this team to maybe steal a six seed this year.

22. Oklahoma City Thunder (49-33)
Key Acquisitions: Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari
Key Departures: Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Jerami Grant
After 11 seasons and an MVP, Russell Westbrook is finally on a team that is not the OKC Thunder. The team also moved on from Paul George in an attempt to get younger and compete at the same time. The Thunder got a plethora of picks from the Clippers as well as a talented young piece in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They also received Chris Paul from the Rockets, and many around the NBA are expecting him to get traded towards the deadline for an asset from a competing team.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves (36-46)
Key Acquisitions: Jarrett Culver
Key Departures: Dario Saric, Derrick Rose
As the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, Andrew Wiggins has been a disappointment in his NBA career so far, but there is still time for him to turn it around. Star center Karl-Anthony Towns is looking to replicate his incredible season from last year but this time turn it into a playoff birth. Although they lost two important role players in Saric and Rose, they got younger by taking Jarrett Culver with the sixth pick in last years draft, and they are hoping he can play a big role this year and in the future.

24. Washington Wizards (32-50)
Key Acquisitions: Davis Bertans
Key Departures: Tomas Satoransky
The Wizards might be in the worst money situation in the NBA, currently paying John Wall over $122 million for the next four years, and keep in mind that he didn’t play last year and he is out for the entirety of this year. They are also paying Ian Mahimi $15.5 million for this upcoming year, who only played 34 games for them last season. And while there were many  rumors this offseason that the Wizards were looking to deal two-time all star Bradley Beal, he just signed a two-year $72 million extension with Washington.

25. Phoenix Suns (19-63)
Key Acquisitions: Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric
Key Departures: TJ Warren
In Ricky Rubio, the Phoenix Suns have finally brought in a quality point guard to play along Devin Booker. It will be very hard for Booker to improve his season from last year, but last year’s first overall pick, Deandre Ayton is looking to improve on his very underrated rookie season. Ayton’s numerical stats didn’t show what kind of season he had, but he was one of the most efficient centers in the league. Now with the addition of Rubio, he should excel especially in the pick and roll game.

26. Atlanta Hawks (29-53)
Key Acquisitions: Deandre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Jabari Parker
Key Departures: None
With a very young duo of Trae Young and John Collins, the hawks are set to be good for a long time. They also have a fair share of good, young role players in Kevin Huerter and the two rookies they added in Reddish and Hunter. Even if this team doesn’t make the playoffs this year, they are still in a good spot to compete in this league for years to come.

27. New York Knicks (17-65)
Key Acquisitions: Julius Randle, Marcus Morris Sr., RJ Barrett
Key Departures: Kristaps Porzingis
After everyone expected the Knicks to win the NBA lottery, they did not get that lucky and ended up falling to the third pick and losing out on Zion Williamson. With that third pick they took RJ Barrett, SG out of Duke. Barrett, had a very good statistical season last year at Duke, but wasn’t very efficient. Moving into free agency, the Knicks had two max deals available to use, but struck out on all of the big free agents like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Jimmy Butler. Instead, their big signing was PF Julius Randle to a three-year $63 million deal. They also went out and signed Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis, all to two year deals. This team won’t be as bad this year, but don’t expect to see the Knicks anywhere close to the playoffs.

28. Memphis Grizzlies (33-49)
Key Acquisitions: Ja Morant
Key Departures: Mike Conley
The Grizzlies were big sellers last season by trading Marc Gasol to the Raptors for Jonas Valanciunas, who they re-signed this offseason. They also traded franchise PG Mike Conley to the Jazz for four players including Grayson Allen and Jae Crowder and a first round pick next year. They drafted PG Ja Morant with the second overall pick, to pair him up with second year star PF Jaren Jackson Jr. With the 21st pick Memphis took PF Brandon Clarke out of Gonzaga, who should be an instant impact player, as he is a great rim protector at only six-foot three-inches. The Grizzlies might not come close to the same number of wins as they had last year, but they are building through the draft and will become a contender in the next few years.

29. Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63)
Key Acquisitions: Darius Garland
Key Departures: none
In a controversial pick, the Cavaliers selected Darius Garland, a PG out of Vanderbilt with the fifth overall pick in last year’s draft. The controversy stems from the fact that in the prior year’s draft, Cleveland took PG Collin Sexton with eighth pick. They now have two young point guards, neither of which are known for their defensive ability., In fact, they are both liabilities on defense. The Cavaliers have also put PF Kevin Love on the trade block and are hoping to get a return of a young player and picks. This team was really bad last year, and won’t be much better this year, but they also added Dylan Windler out of Belmont, and Kevin Porter Jr. out of Arizona State, both rookies. They have big decisions to make, such as will both young PG’s start, or will they trade one.. Whatever the Cavs do, it will be for the future due to the lack of talent on this roster. Look for this team to have the best odds for the first pick in next year’s draft.

30. Charlotte Hornets (39-43)
Key Acquisitions: Terry Rozier, PJ Washington
Key Departures: Kemba Walker
Going from a bubble playoff team to the worst team in the league is a difficult feat to accomplish, but the Hornets may have just done it. They made a sign and trade deal with the Celtics to bring in PG Terry Rozier on a three year $56.7 million deal, who. keep in mind. was a backup all year last year behind Kyrie Irving. Rozier also had one of the worst seasons last year, only shooting 35.7% from the field. But for some reason, the Hornets highly value him highly, even as high as Malcolm Brogdon who was one of the most efficient shooters last season. The Hornets drafted PF PJ Washington out of Kentucky, who has looked promising in the pre-season. They have paired Washington up with young players Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon, and Malik Monk, who are all looking to take steps in their game. This team will be very bad this upcoming year, but they have some young talent to be optimistic about the future.

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