Offseason Power Rankings: Suns, Lakers emerge in West

Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers start on top in this early ranking of each team in the Western Conference.

Phoenix is the defending champion of the West and returns a solid core in 2021-22.

Injuries affected both sides of the 2021 playoff bracket, but they were particularly brutal in the Western Conference.

Jamal Murray tore his ACL before the postseason began, Anthony Davis didn’t make it out of the first round, Mike Conley missed the first five games of the conference semis, and Kawhi Leonard was lost later in that same series. Chris Paul fought through one injury to push the Phoenix Suns to The Finals, but needed wrist surgery after the season was over.

Unfortunately, two of those injuries will spill over into the 2021-22 season, with Murray and Leonard expected to miss all or most of the season. (Klay Thompson, meanwhile, might not make his long awaited return until December.) That seemingly takes two teams out of title contention, but there are many issues in the West to address.

The Los Angeles Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but there’s no telling if the acquisition of Russell Westbrook was a plus or a minus. The Suns just reached The Finals, but Paul is a year older. The Utah Jazz had the league’s best record, but flamed out in the playoffs.

Maybe the Dallas Mavericks can climb into that top tier. And maybe Thompson’s eventual return has the Warriors recapturing their magic.

For this (sure-to-be-proven-wrong) projection, it’s the Suns, Lakers and Jazz at the top, with L.A.’s volatile offseason making them a little less of a sure thing than the defending conference champs.

For these offseason rankings, we’re looking at each conference separately, with the Eastern Conference having been published last week. All stats refer to the 2020-21 regular season unless otherwise noted.

Previously…


Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)

The league averaged 99.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 111.7 points scored per 100 possessions last season.


NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.


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Last Week: 0 ↓Phoenix Suns

2020-21 record: 51-21
Pace: 98.0 (24), OffRtg: 116.3 (7), DefRtg: 110.4 (6), NetRtg: +5.9 (3)

Key addition(s): JaVale McGee
Key departure(s): Torrey Craig

Three numbers to know…

• The Suns had the best record (26-10, 0.722) in regular-season games played between the 15 teams that finished the season with winning records. They were the only team with a better record against that group than they had against the 15 teams that finished at or below .500 (25-11, 0.694).

• The Suns shot 49.0% on pull-up 2-pointers, the best mark for any team in eight seasons of player tracking. Chris Paul (6.9) and Devin Booker (6.5) ranked second and third in pull-up 2-point attempts per game. Paul’s 52.5% on pull-up 2s ranked second among 35 players who attempted at least 200. Booker had the second biggest differential between his success rate on pull-up 2s (49.9%) vs. pull-up 3s (30.8%) among 54 players who attempted at least 100 of each.

• In the regular season, the Suns were outscored by 5.7 points per game, the league’s worst discrepancy, combining points in the restricted area and on free throws. In The Finals, they were outscored by 13 points per game in the restricted area (-11.0) and at the free throw line (-2.0). They were -2.6 per game through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Key question: How do they get better?

This season’s Suns are kind of like last season’s Heat, except that Jae Crowder didn’t leave. There’s no asterisk in regard to their trip to The Finals, but getting back promises to be more difficult. The Suns were one of just two teams that ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and as noted, they were very good against good teams. There’s obviously room for improvement with their young starters — Deandre Ayton (22), Booker (25 in October) and Mikal Bridges (25) — but it’s fair to wonder if Paul (36) can remain at the level he’s been at the last two seasons.

It feels like they’re still missing a piece on the frontline (with Dario Saric possibly out for the season), but McGee can help the Suns inside. That restricted-area-plus-free-throws differential was much worse with Ayton off the floor (-7.4 per 48 minutes) than it was with him on the floor (-4.4, still not great), so you can see the need for a more traditional back-up center. McGee had the second best rim-protection mark (opponents shot 47.7% at the rim when he was there) among 247 players who defended at least 100 total shots at the rim, and he’s obviously a much better lob threat than Saric or Frank Kaminsky.

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