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Celtics, Nuggets, Bucks headline title contenders in DraftKings Network’s NBA Championship index

We’re sorting the contenders, pretenders and tankers as the NBA season moves along.

Boston Celtics v Indiana Pacers
Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics reacts in the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on January 06, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

As the calendar flips to 2024, I’ve decided to make an adjustment to the weekly power rankings for the 2023-24 NBA season. Over the course of 82 games, there will be significant fluctuations for teams over the course of seven days. However, we should be evaluating teams as a whole and looking at their ability to compete for the championship. With that approach in mind, I present the DraftKings Network championship index for the 2023-24 season.

The championship index will look at all the key metrics for teams and slot them into their appropriate tiers. Those tiers are contenders, fringe contenders, pretenders and tankers. The contenders are bonafide title threats who have few weaknesses. The fringe contenders are on the cusp of greatness but need to solve one or two glaring issues. The pretenders are the teams hovering in between the postseason and the draft lottery, while the tankers are hoping to get the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Before getting into the tiers for this season, here’s a look at the last 10 NBA champions and where they ranked in offensive rating, defensive rating and net rating during their title season. While this isn’t an exact science in calculating who can win this year’s NBA title, it does provide a nice baseline for predictions.

2013-14 Spurs: 5th in offensive rating, 4th in defensive rating, 1st in net rating (8.1)
2014-15 Warriors: 2nd in offensive rating, 1st in defensive rating, 1st in net rating (9.9)
2015-16 Cavaliers: 3rd in offensive rating, 10th in defensive rating, 4th in net rating (6.3)
2016-17 Warriors: 1st in offensive rating, 2nd in defensive rating, 1st in net rating (11.4)
2017-18 Warriors: 3rd in offensive rating, 11th in defensive rating, 3rd in net rating (5.9)
2018-19 Raptors: 5th in offensive rating, 5th in defensive rating, 3rd in net rating (5.8)
2019-20 Lakers: 11th in offensive rating, 3rd in defensive rating, 5th in net rating (5.6)
2020-21 Bucks: 5th in offensive rating, 9th in defensive rating, 4th in net rating (5.8)
2021-22 Warriors: 16th in offensive rating, 2nd in defensive rating, 4th in net rating (5.5)
2022-23 Nuggets: 5th in offensive rating, 15th in defensive rating, 6th in net rating (3.3)

Every championship team was elite at something, ranking in the top five in either offensive or defensive rating. Only the Nuggets were outside the top five in net rating, finishing sixth. The net rating is not as important though, since that number has been sliding over the last decade. That means there’s more parity across the league. Four of the last 10 title teams were in the top five in both offensive and defensive rating.

While these ratings are ultimately important in judging a team’s performance, previous postseason track records and star talent are also important. The Oklahoma City Thunder are in the top five in offensive rating and net rating, but do they have the necessary experience to weather a grueling playoff series? The same goes for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have faltered in the first round of the playoffs the last two years. Those results do matter, even if they don’t have a statistical impact for this year’s team.

Here’s our first championship index for the 2023-24 NBA season.

Contenders

1. Boston Celtics (28-7) - 2nd in offensive rating, 2nd in defensive rating, 1st in net rating (10.8)

2. Denver Nuggets (26-12) - 7th in offensive rating, 9th in defensive rating, 3rd in net rating (5.8)

3. Milwaukee Bucks (25-11) - 3rd in offensive rating, 19th in defensive rating, 7th in net rating (4.5)

4. Philadelphia 76ers (23-12) - 5th in offensive rating, 3rd in defensive rating, 2nd in net rating (8.5)

5. Los Angeles Clippers (22-13) - 8th in offensive rating, 10th in defensive rating, 6th in net rating (4.8)

6. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-10) - 19th in offensive rating, 1st in defensive rating, 5th in net rating (5.1)

7. Oklahoma City Thunder (23-11) - 4th in offensive rating, 7th in defensive rating, 3rd in net rating (7.6)

Fringe Contenders

8. Dallas Mavericks (22-15) - The Mavericks need to improve defensively to enter the contender realm. Even though Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are proven playoff performers, this team is simply unable to stop opponents when needed.

9. Phoenix Suns (19-17) - The Suns have a ton of star power with Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker, but the trio simply haven’t played enough games together to develop chemistry. They need to click for this team to reach its ceiling.

10. Miami Heat (20-15) - The Heat have made some improbable Finals runs, but you can only make that journey so many times before the bottom falls out. This team doesn’t have enough depth to withstand injuries to stars over the course of the full season and playoffs.

11. New Orleans Pelicans (22-15) - Zion Williamson’s ability to stay on the floor is concerning, but the Pelicans have shown they can hang with any team as long as he’s there.

12. Orlando Magic (21-15) - Orlando has done a good job staying in the playoff mix in the East, but Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner might need a few cracks at the postseason before truly being ready to make a Finals run.

13. Sacramento Kings - After falling in a Game 7 to the Warriors last year, the Kings appear to be more balanced and have committed to being better defensively. If De’Aaron Fox can recapture some of his late season magic, this is a dangerous unit.

14. Indiana Pacers (20-15) - One thing going for Indiana is a potential Pascal Siakam trade. The Pacers have the best offense in the league, but that will be tested in the playoffs when things slow down. If there isn’t an improvement defensively, this team will go out early.

15. Los Angeles Lakers (18-19) - The Lakers rebounded from a disastrous start to make the Western Conference Finals a year ago. They can still win at home, and they can still play great defense at home. There’s some inconsistencies which needs to be ironed out but the talent is there.

16. New York Knicks (21-15) - The Knicks check all the boxes when it comes to advanced statistics, and Jalen Brunson is turning into a star. However, there simply isn’t enough of a foundation when it comes to playoff success to trust this group to make a deep run.

Pretenders

17. Cleveland Cavaliers (21-15) - The Cavaliers are down a few starters and things should be somewhat normal once Darius Garland and Evan Mobley return. However, this group simply doesn’t have the offensive firepower we expected it to and the defense hasn’t been as good as it was a year ago.

18. Golden State Warriors (17-19) - I don’t know that the dynasty is over, but there are some hard conversations being had in the Bay Area right now. The Warriors are not winning games at home, which used to be an automatic for the last decade. That’s hard to overcome.

19. Houston Rockets (18-16) - The Rockets have made their big leap defensively, but there’s still too much youth on this roster to believe anything can happen this season.

20. Chicago Bulls (16-21) - Chicago’s trade deadline moves will be interesting, with Zach LaVine surely gone. The Bulls have shown they can beat the best teams in the East during the regular season, but can they do that in a playoff series?

21. Memphis Grizzlies (13-23) - In a normal season, the Grizzlies would be fringe contenders. However, they’ve put themselves in too big of a hole due to Ja Morant’s suspension. In the long run, this experience might be helpful for Memphis. For now, it’s just about making a desperate push for a play-in spot.

22. Atlanta Hawks (14-21) - The Hawks have an explosive offense, but give up more on the defensive end. The Trae Young-Dejounte Murray experiment might be over sooner than many expected.

23. Toronto Raptors (15-21) - The Raptors made the first step towards a reset by dealing OG Anunoby to the Knicks. Siakam is surely going to be gone by the trade deadline, and that will help Toronto bottom out a bit.

24. Brooklyn Nets (16-21) - The Nets have a lot of young talent right now, but there’s no franchise player on this roster. This team should attempt to bottom out as the season goes on.

Tankers

25. Utah Jazz (17-20) - The Jazz aren’t actually trying to tank, but it’s becoming clear they are in a similar spot as the Nets. A lot of decent players but no future stars. That’s a tough spot to be in, especially in a small market.

26. Charlotte Hornets (8-25) - There have been a lot of injuries for Charlotte, so this team continues to be hard to evaluate. No. 2 pick Brandon Miller has looked shaky in his rookie season.

27. Portland Trail Blazers (10-25) - This is another team riddled with injuries. It’s hard to see what the final form looks like here, but this group is better than its record.

28. San Antonio Spurs (5-30) - Victor Wembanyama has a ways to go, but Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell haven’t taken bigger steps. At what point does Gregg Popovich get questioned?

29. Washington Wizards (6-29) - This Wizards season is the best argument for why no team should ever hand a second-tier star a no-trade clause.

30. Detroit Pistons (3-33) - This team was expected to potentially compete for a play-in spot at the beginning of the year. Monty Williams has a long way to go in this rebuild.