The Pre-Pre Season NBA Power Rankings
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
1. Miami Heat
- They are the two time defending NBA champions, with the best player on the planet, LeBron James, another top ten player in Dwyane Wade and a third All Star in Chris Bosh, not to mention an elite group of role players and are simply the best team in the NBA. If that does not make you number one, nothing will.
2. San Antonio Spurs
- They were seconds away from winning a title and should have actually won an NBA title last season. They have two superstars in Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and the best set of role players in the NBA. Although Manu Ginobili has lost a step or three, he is still effective, Kawhi Leonard could be an All star within a year or two and is already one of the best defenders in the NBA and exploded in the playoffs and Danny Green, Tiago Splitter, Marco Belinelli, Corey Joseph, Boris Diaw and Matt Boner are all excellent in their roles. Oh and they have the best coach in the NBA in Gregg Popovich. Placing the Spurs at 2, was just as easy as putting the Heat at 1.
3. Indiana Pacers
- The Pacers took the Heat to game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals and have improved their roster during the off season. That is an excellent sign that this could be the year that they make it back to the NBA Finals and dethrone the Heat in the East after 3 years. Rising superstar, Paul George, should be even better in year 4, All Star, Roy Hibbert, should also improve and was excellent in the playoffs, they now have former franchise player, Danny Granger back, who only played in 5 games last season and he should bring an added scoring boost to the roster, whether as a starter, or most likely in a sixth man role and they made a very wise trade with the Suns to obtain Luis Scola, whose offense, will also give them even more scoring that they did not have last season and is a big upgrade to Tyler Hansbrough as the 3rd big man. They are still an elite defensive and rebounding team, they brought back their entire core and are bringing in two excellent offensive upgrades, which should make their 21st ranked offense far better. They were one game away from the Finals and should be a much better team next season, which means they have a serious shot at winning a title and are currently the 3rd best team in the NBA.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
- The Clippers now have Doc Rivers as head coach, who is a big upgrade over Vinny Del Negro, they resigned their best player, point guard, Chris Paul, who is the best point guard in the NBA and they improved their perimeter play and bench significantly with the additions of J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Daren Collison, Byron Mullins and Reggie Bullock. They should also have improved play from All Star, Blake Griffin and athletic center, DeAndre Jordan. After the Spurs, they seem to be the top team in the West.
5. Chicago Bulls
- The Bulls now have their superstar point guard back, as Derrick Rose returns to a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs last year. It may take a season for him to return to his old form, but he should still be an All Star next season, as he is too talented not to thrive. Around him, there are All Stars, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, scoring big man, Carlos Boozer, the developing Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague and valuable veteran role players, in Kirk Hinrich and Mike Dunleavy. This team is deep, talented, well coached, have their best player back and look to be the third best team in the East.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
- The Thunder are an incredibly talented team, with superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and rising star, Serge Ibaka and behind them there are solid veterans and promising young players, but they have no upper echelon talent behind their top three players. They will win a lot of games and can go far with Durant and Westbrook, but their lack of a third top end scorer, like James Harden and Kevin Martin, means that they are not as talented as they were in previous seasons and should not be the favorite in the West like many believe them to be.
7. Houston Rockets
- The very young and explosive Rockets added one of the best players in the NBA and the best center in the NBA, which skyrockets them up the NBA ladder and makes last season’s 8th seed in the West, number 7 in these rankings. Now with one of the best 1-2 punches in the NBA, with Dwight Howard and James Harden, to go along with elite secondary players, like Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik and solid role players, like Greg Smith, Francisco Garcia and Patrick Beverley, makes them legitimate title contenders next season.
8. Memphis Grizzlies
- New coach or not, the Grizzlies are still contenders in the West. They still have one of the best defenses in the NBA, the best starting frontcourt in the NBA, a solid as a rock point guard and the best perimeter defender in the NBA. Their two biggest weaknesses, 3 point shooting and their bench, have each been improved, so their offense should be improved. They have the potential to be even better next season, especially if Mike Conley keeps improving and plays like he did in the playoffs and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and their All Star center, Marc Gasol, becomes more aggressive on offense, as he is simply too passive far too often. Regardless, they still have a real chance at making it back to the Western Conference Finals and even going further next season.
9. Brooklyn Nets
- Yes they have 5 All Stars in their starting lineup and a very nice bench, but they have a rookie head coach and they will have to work on some serious chemistry issues, as long time stars will have to take on smaller roles, but there is no doubting that they have incredible talent on their roster. They are a virtual lock for the playoffs and are clearly a top 4 team in the East based on talent and can even win the East, but until they prove that they can play together and gel as an actual team, they will be lower on this list.
10. New York Knicks
- The Knicks have one of the best players in the NBA, in Carmelo Anthony, one of the best defenders in the NBA, in Tyson Chandler and a whole bunch of wildcards, which is why they are currently the 5th ranked Eastern Conference team. Besides Anthony and Chandler, 3 of their better players have injury concerns. Reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith, has had knee surgery, Amar’e Stoudemire has become the poster child for NBA knee injuries and Andrea Bargnani has oft been injured the last two seasons. There is also a big problem when it comes to chemistry, as they have a lot of new parts and with the addition of Metta World Peace, more than a few players with character concerns. Stoudemire is unsure of his role, Bargnani should say the same and other than Anthony and Smith, where they will find consistent offense, is a mystery. They could actually have a better defense with World Peace in town and with Iman Shumpert healthy, but there are simply too many questions to put them ahead of any of the 4 East teams above them.
11. Golden State Warriors
- If healthy, this team has enough talent to make it to the Western Conference Finals, or even the NBA Finals. They have a rising superstar, in Stephen Curry, who if healthy, should be one of the best offensive players in the NBA and should also make that rise to superstardom, two other All Stars in David Lee and Andre Iguodala and yet again, if healthy, one of the best post defenders in the NBA, in Andrew Bogut. They also have two very young and talented, All Star caliber perimeter players, in Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. Led by Barnes, they should also have a very talented bench and with the addition of Iguodala and the health of Bogut, they should have a far improved defense. Their offense will be excellent and if their defense can catch up, they can actually win the West, despite being a relatively young team.
12. Portland Trail Blazers
- The Trail Blazers, despite their youth, were in the playoff chase until the final weeks of the season, but it was their lack of depth and injuries that held them back. Their starting lineup is elite, led by All Star power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year point guard, Damian Lillard and along with Nicolas Batum, they have an excellent “big three.” That problem with depth they had, is no longer a problem, as they completely revamped their bench and should be improved more than any second unit in the NBA. They have a playoff caliber roster and a lot of upside and should sneak into one of the last two playoff spots in the West.
13. Los Angeles Lakers
- The Lakers are a mystery right now. If Kobe Bryant was completely healthy and expected to start game 1, then they would be at least above Portland and would maybe even crack the top 10, but lacking the knowledge of his return keeps them in the middle of the pack. If Kobe doesn’t miss too much time and Pau Gasol settles into his secondary role like in previous seasons, they should make the playoffs, but if Kobe misses too much time, they really have no chance.
14. Denver Nuggets
- The Nuggets could be the biggest fallers when it comes to record this season. Last year’s 3rd seed in the West, lost their Hall of Fame coach, one of their 2 best players in Andre Iguodala, their 3rd best player, Danilo Gallinari should miss a big chunk of the season recovering from knee surgery, their starting center is now in Memphis and the man to replace him, JaVale McGee is an enigma, who has never thrived as a full time starter. They lost a lot of talent and could struggle this season because of that fact and here is a prediction that they will miss the playoffs completely.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
- The Timberwolves have the best shot at the playoffs this season, than they have since Kevin Garnett left in 2007. If Kevin Love comes back healthy, they have an excellent foundation of Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic and very talented newcomers, in veteran scorer, Kevin Martin, who is a big upgrade over any player on the perimeter, Corey Brewer and rookies Shabazz Muhammad, who is a scoring small forward and Gorgui Dieng, who is instantly the top paint defender on the roster . They also have Derrick Williams, Chase Budinger, Jose Juan Barea, to complete the rotation, who are all very talented role players and of course, one of the best coaches in the NBA, in veteran, Rick Adelman. The West has a lot of depth and talent, but they have a very nice chance to squeeze into the playoffs, as this is the best post Kevin Garnett team that they have assembled.
16. Cleveland Cavaliers
- The Cleveland Cavaliers should make the playoffs this season for the first time since LeBron James left in 2010. With Kyrie Irving set to become a superstar, the inclusion of All Star center, Andrew Bynum and first overall pick, Anthony Bennett, along with excellent young players in Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, elite sixth man, Jarrett Jack and a whole lot of depth and talent around them, here is a prediction that the Cavs will make the playoffs for the first time in 4 long seasons.
17. Washington Wizards
- The Wizards should also make the postseason for the first time in years. With John Wall also close to superstar status, expected development from stud shooting guard, Bradley Beal, accompanied by a very strong veteran frontcourt, with the offensive minded Nene and the defensive minded Emeka Okafor, along with a host of young talented players, especially this summer’s 3rd overall pick, Otto Porter Jr., they should fill one of the last 3 seeds in the relatively weak Eastern Conference.
18. Dallas Mavericks
- The Mavericks look to be stuck in mediocrity and have a limited chance at making the playoffs, unless Dirk Nowitzki returns to superstar form, Monta Ellis settles in well as their second scorer and veterans, Samuel Dalembert, Jose Calderon, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter all play like it was last season. They have a chance, but with too many new pieces, too little defense and age a concern, they have a lot of question marks, too many for an expected playoff run.
19. Detroit Pistons
- The 8th ranked team in the Eastern Conference all the way at 19? Obviously the West is that much better than the East, but the Pistons are also much better than last season. With improvement expected from their two All Star caliber bigs, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, along with new additions, in former Hawks’ star Josh Smith, the Bucks’ former All Star caliber point guard, Brandon Jennings and the 8th overall pick, shooting guard, Kentavious Caldwell Pope, they have more talent than they have in years. Like the Cavs and Wizards, they have a very nice chance to make the playoffs for the first time in some time.
20. Atlanta Hawks
- The Hawks just lost one of their two best players, in Josh Smith and replaced him with Paul Millsap, who isn’t as talented offensively or defensively as Smith and with no depth or perimeter talent, they will have to overachieve to actually make the playoffs after making it for the last several seasons.
21. New Orleans Pelicans
- The Pelicans have a lot of potential and they have a chance at the playoffs, but they are very young, have a lot of new players, they need time to gel and they have too many players who will want the ball in their hands and need the ball to play their best. There are just too many questions right now about the team, to consider them better than any of the teams in front of them and therefore they, will in all likelihood miss the playoffs again, but they should be leaps and bounds better than they have been since they lost Chris Paul, two years ago.
22. Toronto Raptors
- The Raptors have two very promising young players, in second year center, Jonas Valanciunas, who could be an All Star very soon and the so overrated that he has become underrated, DeMar DeRozan; seriously look at his stats. If they want to make the playoffs, Rudy Gay has to be far better than he was last season, as well as Kyle Lowry. They should be better than last season, but do they have enough to make the playoffs? They have a chance, but it is unlikely, based on the talent around the 4 previously mentioned players.
23. Boston Celtics
- When it comes to any big time talent, they have All Star, Rajon Rondo, rising star, Jeff Green and for now, not much else. They are clearly rebuilding, so they are in for a rough season, when it comes to their standards. Oh, not to mention that Rondo will most likely miss part of the season, with no real timetable for when he comes back, because of knee surgery for his torn ACL. He could miss half the season and if he does, they will fall way down this list, but this ranking is assuming he only misses a small portion of the season. Other than Rondo and Green, they do have a lot of young talent, just once again, no stars, but Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are all excellent young players with starter potential. They have some slightly above average veterans, in Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee, but the roster doesn’t look like a playoff contender and they should miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
24. Milwaukee Bucks
- The Bucks’ roster looks a lot different than it did last season, but they do have a very nice young starting backcourt, with Brandon Knight and OJ Mayo, an excellent young center, who is a rising star, in Larry Sanders and they have very nice supporting talent, in veterans, Luke Ridnour, Caron Butler, Zaza Pachulia and Carlos Delfino and young talents in John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Giannis (not writing his last name) and Khris Middleton. The East is better than it has been in quite awhile, so they will most likely not be in the playoffs again this season.
25. Charlotte Bobcats
- The Bobcats are no longer the laughingstock of the NBA and have added legitimate talent in perennial near All Star, Al Jefferson and rookie, Cody Zeller, who should be a big upgrade at power forward and an offensive stud. Together they make arguably the best frontcourt they have ever had in their 9 year history. Also, with expected improvement from franchise point guard, Kemba Walker and potential star small forward and last summer’s second overall pick, Michael Kidd Gilchrist, they should be a far better team next season, but the playoffs seem to still be at least one year away.
26. Sacramento Kings
- The Kings have an interesting young roster, with potential superstar, DeMarcus Cousins at center and their rookie shooting guard, Ben McLemore can also become an All Star. They have a big upgrade at point guard, in Greivis Vasquez, improved defensive talent and they have a deep frontcourt, but they are too young and have too many new faces to be close to the playoffs this season.
27. Utah Jazz
- The Jazz will most likely be starting 4 first time starters, so they are obviously a very young team. The talent is definitely there, as Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward are each excellent offensive players and Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are each potential All Star big men, so they have one of the best young cores in the NBA, but right now just isn’t their time. They are currently far too inexperienced to win too many games this season.
28. Phoenix Suns
- Two of their three best players are Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, point guards who are expected to start together, which is odd and a center, Marcin Gortat, who will not be in Phoenix past this season. In fact it, would not be surprising in any way if Dragic and Gortat are each traded during the season, to make way for their only two franchise cornerstones, Bledsoe and this summer’s 5th overall pick, Alex Len. They have some more talent on the roster, in the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and P.J. Tucker, but a very poor season should be expected in Phoenix.
29. Orlando Magic
- Right now the Magic are filled with veterans who shouldn’t be on the team and unproven young players. Jameer Nelson, Glen Davis and Aaron Afflalo are all solid veterans, but should all have been traded a long time ago and although Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson all have excellent upsides, they are far from consistent to date. The Magic do have two big time talents, in franchise center, Nikola Vucevic and second overall pick, Victor Oladipo, but Oladipo is unproven and Vucevic isn’t a player they can run the offense through as of yet. This team does have talent and should be better than last season and win more games than their NBA worst record, but they are rebuilding and this is still a season for improving and developing their roster.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
- Their leading scorers are projected to be Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young and their top two pieces for their future are a center with no offensive skills, who is recovering from a torn ACL and is expected to miss a chunk of the season and a point guard, who cannot shoot. That is not the best of starts, but behind those 4 players, there is little to no talent on the roster and they should be the worst team in the NBA, especially after trading All Star, Jrue Holiday. Hey at least that means that they are the favorite to draft Andrew Wiggins.