21st Century NBA Power Rankings: Middle 10
theScore

On Wednesday, theScore began counting down its rankings of all 30 NBA franchises based on how successful they've been so far in the 21st century - graded by a variety of objective (Best Season, Worst Season, Overall Record, Playoff Performance), and subjective (Franchise Player, Cult Appeal, Public Dysfunction) factors.

With 30-21 behind us - and the top 10 coming Friday - we'll spend Thursday looking at the NBA's middle class, including the first of eight teams to have won a championship this century.

20. New Orleans Pelicans

Best Season: 3
Worst Season: 16
Overall Record: 15
Playoff Performance: 8
Franchise Player: 16
Cult Appeal: 8
Public Dysfunction: 16

Total Score: 82

It's hard to get a firm grasp on the Pelicans' place in the NBA universe this century, partly due to their multiple franchise relocations and single name change, and partly due to a lack of consistency - good or bad.

They were more successful than you may recall at the start of the century (the Baron Davis/Jamal Mashburn years), they bottomed out in time to grab franchise point guard Chris Paul in '05, they came one game away from the conference finals in '08 before injuries and faulty team-building stuck them with a first-round ceiling, then they bottomed out again in time to grab Anthony Davis in 2012 - though maladies and poorly thought-out roster construction again may cut this era down before it gets too successful.

Ultimately, the Pelicans escape the bottom 10 because they have enjoyed the primes of Paul and The Brow, because their most publicly humiliating moment (the vetoed CP3-to-LA deal) was more the league's fault than theirs, and because their see-sawing between fat and lean years ultimately leaves them squarely in the middle of the pack in overall record.

Organizational consistency would go a long way, but the upcoming one-season experiment of Davis and DeMarcus Cousins - flanked by Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen - doesn't augur particularly well on those grounds.

19. Denver Nuggets

Best Season: 8
Worst Season: 15
Overall Record: 18
Playoff Performance: 9
Franchise Player: 10
Cult Appeal: 23
Public Dysfunction: 14

Total Score: 97

How do you make the playoffs 10 straight years and still score as one of the least successful postseason teams of the century? Losing in nine out of 10 first rounds is a good start. The only time the Nuggets advanced since 2000 was in 2008-'09, following the Allen Iverson-Chauncey Billups swap that resulted in their first Conference finals appearance in nearly a quarter-century.

As good as that campaign was, the Nuggets still score low in Best Season and - due to Carmelo Anthony prematurely forcing his way out of Denver and going on to much greater individual visibility (but not exactly greater postseason success) in New York - they score bottom 10 in Franchise Player as well.

Still, they're buoyed by their overall record - 10 straight winning seasons certainly helps with that - and by their enduring cult appeal, dating back at least to the thrilling chaos of the AI-Melo-K-Mart-J.R. days, enduring through the "no sticky hands" days of the team post-Melo trade, and the supremely exciting 57-win team in '12-'13 (who were upset by Golden State in the first round and dismantled almost immediately after).

The future of the team's Internet-friendliness should be fairly safe in the hands of 7-foot wizard Nikola Jokic, as well.

18. Philadelphia 76ers

Best Season: 19
Worst Season: 2
Overall Record: 6
Playoff Performance: 14
Franchise Player: 23
Cult Appeal: 26
Public Dysfunction: 8

Total Score: 98

The Process may have set up the 76ers for as bright a future as any young team in basketball, but its effects on the team's win-loss record have of course been woefully deleterious - the last four lottery-bound seasons have dragged the Sixers down to the Association's sixth-worst overall record for the century, and only the then-Bobcats' historic 7-59 record in the lockout year saves them from having the worst Worst Season.

It hasn't always been easy off the court, either, with Iverson standing as perhaps the most controversial player of his day, Andrew Bynum treating fans to the most comically disastrous rental season in big-man history, and Jahlil Okafor's very bad night in Boston ending up on TMZ.

But as much drama as Iverson courted, he also served as one of the true superstars of the early century - winning MVP and leading the 76ers to the Finals in 2001. And as much losing as The Process has resulted in, it's also led to the development of one of the most devout cult followings in professional sports, with deposed general manager Sam Hinkie a martyr figure inspiring near-Messianic reverence.

Strikes and gutters for the 76ers this century, as Bynum is all too familiar with.

17. Memphis Grizzlies

Best Season: 9
Worst Season: 21
Overall Record: 11
Playoff Performance: 11
Franchise Player: 3
Cult Appeal: 25
Public Dysfunction: 20

Total Score: 99

Like the Nuggets, the Grizzlies have a ton of playoff appearances this century without a lot of playoff series wins to show for it - in their 10 appearances, they've only made it to the second round three times, and were swept in their lone conference finals appearance.

That hurts them here, as do their two seasons still in Vancouver at century's beginning (combined record: 45-119), and the fact that they've never had a true franchise superstar, with Thinking Man's All-Star Marc Gasol likely the closest thing at this point.

What the Grizzlies do have, though, is a ton of Cult Appeal - thanks to one of the strongest team identities in recent sports history, classified (and largely personified) by Tony Allen as the Grit-n-Grind era.

And despite their GM once being a punchline for his tendency to get out-maneuvered in his dealings, a lot of his once-mocked bets on players like Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley ended up paying off not with a playoff perennial, but in one of the model organizations in the NBA. We'll see how much of that can survive now, with franchise-definers Randolph and Allen finally headed further West.

16. Orlando Magic

Best Season: 22
Worst Season: 18
Overall Record: 12
Playoff Success: 13
Franchise Player: 19
Cult Appeal: 9
Public Dysfunction: 15

Total Score: 108

It feels like one or multiple lifetimes ago that the Magic were a perennial playoff contender, but not even a decade ago, the Magic were winning 59 games and playing for the title, with an innovative roster built around the generational talents of two-way monster center Dwight Howard.

It fell apart with surprising quickness, but it's enough to get the Magic strong scores in Best Season and Franchise Player here - as well as Worst Season, since they never quite bottomed out post-Dwight trade the way some initially predicted.

All that's really keeping the Magic from this list's top half is a lack of real outsider appeal: Despite having employed a couple transcendent players this century in Howard and Tracy McGrady, the Magic never quite built the teams around the two superstars that were entertaining and/or identifiable enough to engender much bandwagon-jumping - and these days, not even their own fans seem to have a ton of love for the directionless squad.

15. Toronto Raptors

Best Season: 11
Worst Season: 22
Overall Record: 13
Playoff Performance: 10
Franchise Player: 20
Cult Appeal: 15
Public Dysfunction: 18

Total Score: 109

Middle of the pack nearly the whole way, the Raptors only squeak their way into the top 10 of our rankings once (for Worst Season - the only marginally disastrous 22-win '10-'11 campaign) and into the bottom 10 once (for Playoff Performance - 15 years in between series wins'll do that).

Otherwise, their best season was great but hardly the stuff of legend, their franchise player defined basketball north of the border but left too soon under lousy circumstances, and their bandwagonability is still a relatively new development, along with the rise of Jurassic Park and Drake Night.

On the bright side, middle of the pack would've certainly seemed wishful thinking for the 21st-century Raptors a half-decade ago. On the less-bright side, with a somewhat compromised roster and not a ton of wiggle room going into this season - not to mention a creeping feeling of redundancy - it's hard to see how their scoring prospects improve significantly from here.

14. Utah Jazz

Best Season: 7
Worst Season: 25
Overall Record: 24
Playoff Performance: 19
Franchise Player: 4
Cult Appeal: 5
Public Dysfunction: 29

Total Score: 113

No other team on these rankings has a bigger disparity between their Best Season and Overall Record scores as the Jazz.

Despite only making the conference finals once, with a largely underqualified '06-07 squad, the Jazz have been one of the best regular-season teams in the Association this century, with winning campaigns in 12 out of 18 seasons, and never fewer than 25 Ws in a season. That consistency has also been mirrored in the team's off-court dealings, which have been as undramatic as any team outside of San Antonio.

But that dependability has also led to staid basketball for outsiders looking in. Deron Williams threatened superstar status for about a season but never quite got there, and his closest thing to a successor just bolted in the offseason. The new Jazz threaten to be an enjoyably stifling defensive juggernaut - the Salt Lake equivalent of Grit-n-Grind, perhaps - but that would make it the first Jazz squad post-Stockton & Malone with a truly memorable identity.

13. Portland Trail Blazers

Best Season: 13
Worst Season: 20
Overall Record: 20
Playoff Performance: 15
Franchise Player: 12
Cult Appeal: 27
Public Dysfunction: 9

Total Score: 116

Almost hard to believe sometimes that the Blazers were once the problem children of the NBA, when for the last decade they've been about as cuddly a franchise as the Association could ask for. The Jail Blazers era hurts Portland in Public Dysfunction but helps them in Cult Appeal, where they've drawn strong for motivations both vicarious and voyeuristic for most of the century.

It's slightly surprising their Overall Record score should be so strong, considering they haven't really had a playoff run of consequence since 1999-2000, but like the Jazz, they just never really lost that much: only five losing seasons this century.

It's arguable that the Blazers have lacked a real superstar since Clyde Drexler, but Brandon Roy and Damian Lillard (and to a lesser extent, LaMarcus Aldridge) have definitely at least captured the public's imagination and felt like true franchise leaders; Lillard's series-clincher against the Rockets in '14 was one of the great star moments for any player this century.

The Blazers haven't had the highest-level success to really threaten the top 10 of these rankings, but it feels right they should land in the top half.

12. Indiana Pacers

Best Season: 20
Worst Season: 28
Overall Record: 22
Playoff Performance: 23
Franchise Player: 7
Cult Appeal: 10
Public Dysfunction: 10

Total Score: 120

The Pacers have basically been awesome on the court all century. Despite a brief dip into losing basketball in the late 2000s - the Danny Granger and/or Jim O'Brien years, though even then they never sagged below 32 wins - Indiana has been one of the league's most consistent winners since the turn of the millennium, starting the period off with a Finals trip in '00 and making the conference finals three more times since.

They haven't been the sexiest of organizations over that period - and their franchise-derailing involvement in the Malice at the Palace pretty much dooms them to the bottom 10 in Public Dysfunction, despite a relatively healthy off-court run since - but the winning is enough to get them scores of 20 or higher in all four on-court performance categories here.

It's a track record that should give Indy fans hope that growing pains from their upcoming rebuild through Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo might not hurt that hard for that long.

11. Detroit Pistons

Best Season: 23
Worst Season: 26
Overall Record: 19
Playoff Performance: 25
Franchise Player: 5
Cult Appeal: 12
Public Dysfunction: 11

Total Score: 121

The only 21st-century title-winners to fall outside of the top 10 of our rankings - though considering how lousy the Pistons have been for most of the last decade, maybe it's a marvel that they even got as close as they did.

Since swapping Billups for Iverson at the beginning of the 2008-'09 season, the Pistons have made it to the playoffs twice without winning a single game either time - otherwise treadmilling through bad contracts and bad management, at one point winning 30 games or fewer for six straight seasons.

And yet, for a not inconsiderable amount of time, the Pistons were the surest bet in the Association - making the Conference Finals six years in a row, the Finals twice, and in 2004, upsetting the Kobe-Shaq-led Lakers for one of the more inspiring championship victories in recent NBA history.

They never had a real superstar - that was sort of the whole point - and their Cult Appeal was never off the charts, but the winning was legit and sustainable on a level we haven't really seen since, outside of "Team LeBron plays for." Detroit's done its damnedest to undo all of that in the years since, but it hasn't succeeded just yet.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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21st Century NBA Power Rankings: Middle 10
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