NBA Power Rankings: Grades for Every Team

Ethan Norof@ethan_norofCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2012

NBA Power Rankings: Grades for Every Team

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    NBA power rankings change on a weekly basis, and while there have been some impressive teams to begin the 2011-12 season, there have been some equally unimpressive clubs as well.

    The Miami Heat continue to play very well and have started this year much differently than they did last year, but there are some teams at the top of the pack that may surprise some fans.

    The league is wide open this year in both the Eastern and Western Conference, and that's already been very evident through the first two weeks of the campaign.

30. Washington Wizards

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    Record: 0-8

    Grade: F

    The Wizards are a mess on the court right now, and it's very obvious that the team just isn't listening to what Flip Saunders is telling them.

    There is no strategy on offense, everyone is playing very selfishly and this is a team that is playing as if their first names are branded across the chest rather than Washington.

29. New Jersey Nets

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    Record: 2-7

    Grade: D

    Brook Lopez's foot injury continues to loom large for the Nets, and the team is really struggling to find production from beneath the basket.

    The lack of depth in the second unit is alarming, and there have already been rumblings that Deron Williams may not be "feeling it" in New Jersey for the long haul.

28. Detroit Pistons

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    Record: 2-6

    Grade: C-

    The decision to re-sign Tayshaun Prince for another four seasons remains an awfully curious one, but it's not the first head-scratcher we've seen in the Joe Dumars era.

    Detroit is getting absolutely nothing from Charlie Villanueva or Austin Daye, which really hurts the production from the reserve group, and it seems as if it could be a long season for Lawrence Frank in his first year patrolling the sidelines.

27. New Orleans Hornets

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    Record: 2-6

    Grade: C-

    With Eric Gordon having played just two regular season games and on the shelf for at least another two weeks, the Hornets are scrapping to put together a game plan on the fly.

    There is some intriguing talent on the roster, but concerns within the second unit and inconsistency on the defensive end will hold the club back.

26. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Record: 2-6

    Grade: C-

    Brandon Jennings and Stephen Jackson are combining to shoot a putrid percentage from the floor, and the shot selection is a serious problem for the backcourt duo.

    Although Milwaukee has been forced to play a recent stretch without Andrew Bogut (personal), this is a team that had its sights set on the postseason, and there are going to have to be major improvements for that to come to fruition.

25. Sacramento Kings

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    Record: 3-6

    Grade: Incomplete

    The Kings have a lot of work to do in order to fulfill the potential of the roster, but Keith Smart has only spent two games as head coach and hasn't had a ton of time to preach his message.

    He already has a better relationship with DeMarcus Cousins than ex-coach Paul Westphal ever did, and it's imperative to remember that Cousins' talent ceiling combined with the fact he's on a rookie contract makes him a very strong asset for Sacramento.

    If Smart can get the Kings to facilitate the offensive flow with more efficiency, things could look a lot better in California's capital.

24. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Record: 2-6

    Grade: C

    Charlotte entered the season with arguably the least amount of talent on the roster of any team, and it certainly doesn't help that the Bobcats have faced some formidable competition early in the year.

    D.J. Augustin, Boris Diaw and (especially) Byron Mullens have all been much better than most could have predicted, but a team ranking dead last in defensive efficiency can't win at a regular rate.

23. Toronto Raptors

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    Record: 3-5

    Grade: C+

    The Raptors have played a better brand of basketball than some have expected, and Dwane Casey's attention to defensive play is something that the team will have to continue to work on as the season moves forward.

    Andrea Bargnani has begun the campaign on fire and Jose Calderon is playing admirably, but this is a club that needs more firepower in the offensive unit in order to really get it going.

22. Utah Jazz

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    Record: 5-3

    Grade: B-

    Utah has to show more consistency for anyone to believe that this team is for real, but the club does has some impressive victories over teams likely to make the playoffs.

    There are still very real questions about the type of production Utah can get from its wing players, and if they struggle from the perimeter, the Jazz won't have much room inside for their talented big men to work beneath the cup.

21. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Record: 4-4

    Grade: B-

    Given the relatively low expectations put on the Cavs entering the season, this is a team that looks much better than almost anyone was expecting.

    Cleveland has huge concerns in the second unit, but Kyrie Irving has come into the league with a bang, and this is a much different team than the lifeless one we saw during the 2010-11 season.

20. Golden State Warriors

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    Record: 2-6

    Grade: C-

    Mark Jackson appears to be guessing at times in his first go-around as head coach, and the chronic ankle injuries of Stephen Curry are really making things complicated for the Warriors.

    Andris Biedrins and Kwame Brown are making a combined $16 million, but are struggling mightily to make an impact, and rookie Klay Thompson hasn't exactly had the most prosperous start to his rookie campaign.

19. Houston Rockets

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    Record: 2-6

    Grade: C

    Kevin McHale has made it no secret that he prefers to keep his rotations tight and limited to more of a traditional 8-9 players, but the problem is that he's attempting to figure out who those guys are on the fly, and it's changing with regularity.

    Samuel Dalembert's struggles with conditioning have the Rockets struggling to find a presence in the middle, and small forward continues to be a growing concern without a long-term answer on the roster.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Record: 3-5

    Grade: B

    Two very close losses to title contenders Miami and Oklahoma City have people excited about the future of the Timberwolves, and there is every reason to think Rick Adelman will have a positive impact on this team.

    Electric rookie Ricky Rubio fits Adelman's system beautifully, and the incredible play from Kevin Love combined with a newly injected element of Derrick Williams has fans rightfully excited about the potential of the club for the future.

17. Phoenix Suns

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    Record: 4-4

    Grade: B-

    The Suns looked terrible with a capital "T" to begin the season, but Phoenix has really turned in a much better effort on both ends of the floor as of late.

    The only really impressive win of the four to date was a 25-point shellacking of Portland, so the Suns will have to prove that they can continue the success against tougher opposition.

16. Dallas Mavericks

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    Record: 4-5

    Grade: C-

    Some might find Dallas' struggles out of the gate puzzling considering their championship run last season, but there were just too many moving parts on and off the roster during a condensed offseason to make the chemistry work right off the bat.

    The age of the team's key contributors is definitely noteworthy, and after Tyson Chandler's presence down low really opened up the floor for the team last year, the Mavericks continue (unsuccessfully) to search for an answer down low.

15. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Record: 3-5

    Grade: B-

    The injury to Zach Randolph really puts a damper on Memphis' outlook for the season, but there is enough talent on the roster to put together a competitive effort on a nightly basis.

    It's time for O.J. Mayo to step up and play a bigger role off the bench, as the club will have to find a way to attempt to replace the production Z-Bo brought on a nightly basis.

14. New York Knicks

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    Record: 4-4

    Grade: B-

    The offensive strategy for the Knicks appears to be isolation for Carmelo Anthony far more frequently than it should be, but hopefully, that's not a trend which will last all season.

    Tyson Chandler is playing a lot better recently, and Iman Shumpert is providing some much-needed help in the backcourt after returning from his knee injury, but the Knicks have to bring the firepower with far more regularity.

13. Orlando Magic

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    Record: 6-3

    Grade: B

    Orlando has had a solid start to the season, but the declining production from Jameer Nelson at the point guard position (6.8 ppg, 5.4 assists, 36.8 percent shooting) is a major area of concern.

    With just Chris Duhon behind him as the only two true point guards on the roster, the Magic will have to keep a careful eye on the production from that spot in the lineup.

    Outside of an inconsistent Glen Davis, Orlando has to also be concerned about what the second unit can provide when they're on the court.

12. Boston Celtics

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    Record: 4-4

    Grade: B-

    Boston's 0-3 start had Celtics fans extraordinarily nervous, but a 4-1 record over their last five (and with Paul Pierce back in the lineup) has things a bit calmer in New England.

    The problem with the C's is that they really haven't beaten anybody (New Jersey, Washington, Detroit), and the losses have come to New York, Miami, Indiana and New Orleans.

    It's strange that Boston has basically become an offensively-oriented team this season, but the defensive tenacity just isn't where it once was.

11. San Antonio Spurs

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    Record: 6-3

    Grade: B

    The Spurs are facing a tough stretch in January without Manu Ginobili (broken hand), and San Antonio's season could go in an unexpected direction if the club struggles without the veteran.

    Tim Duncan is really struggling, posting the worst numbers of his career virtually across the board, and there is no way this club can hang with the more talented ones with him averaging a ridiculously low 24 minutes per game.

10. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Record: 6-4

    Grade: B+

    The Lakers have looked like a different team since Andrew Bynum returned to the starting five, and the success he is having at the basket is greater than we've seen from him in previous seasons.

    Despite losing Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown in the offseason, the second unit has found a way to produce, and a healthy Matt Barnes goes a lot further for this team than many might realize with the questions at the small forward position.

9. Denver Nuggets

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    Record: 6-3

    Grade: A-

    Denver has really looked like an impressive bunch since trading Carmelo Anthony last season, and that pattern has continued thus far during the 2011-12 season.

    Ty Lawson has asserted himself as a team leader, the addition of Andre Miller was huge and Masai Ujiri has done an incredibly good job at building the depth on this roster.

    There is a lot to like about what the Nuggets bring to the table in a wide-open Western Conference.

8. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Record: 4-2

    Grade: B+

    The Clippers are not fans of the "Lob City" nicknames, but when Blake Griffin does his best Superman and flies to the basket, anticipating an alley-oop from Chris Paul, it makes all of the sense in the world.

    With the starting five looking like they're jelling nicely as the season moves forward, the Clippers will look to continue to fulfill the lofty expectations hoisted upon them prior to the year.

7. Atlanta Hawks

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    Record: 6-3

    Grade: B+

    Charles Barkley repeatedly used the phrase "mental toughness" to describe the shortcomings of the Hawks team, and it's possible he was more accurate than he's getting credit for in his assessment.

    Jeff Teague has more steals (19) than turnovers (17), Josh Smith is producing in an incredibly versatile fashion and the veteran additions to the second unit have looked like very good.

    However, this team has got to do a better job of finishing close games against tough opponents in order to prove that they're not the same Hawks team from previous seasons that was "stuck in the middle."

6. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Record: 5-2

    Grade: A

    The Sixers have really been impressive early in the season, and the attention to detail at the defensive end of the floor undoubtedly has a smile across the face of Coach Doug Collins.

    Ranked at the very top of the pack (first overall) in both offensive and defensive efficiency entering Monday, Philadelphia is easily the most surprising team of the season through the first two weeks of the season.

5. Indiana Pacers

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    Record: 6-2

    Grade: A-

    Larry Bird has done a magnificent job of building a roster that possesses legitimate depth, and the addition of David West in the offseason as well as the development of Roy Hibbert have been driving factors in Indiana's hot start.

    Danny Granger is struggling to find the bottom of the net (just 30.7 percent from the floor), but the elevated play of the aforementioned teammates and second-year man Paul George has this team clicking on all cylinders right now.

4. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Record: 6-2

    Grade: A-

    LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace have led the charge for the Trail Blazers, but the addition of Raymond Felton at the point is not something that should be left by the wayside.

    Chad Buchanan has done a wonderful job of building depth despite losing both Brandon Roy and Greg Oden just prior to the season, and the Trail Blazers are an awfully dangerous opponent on any given night.

3. Chicago Bulls

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    Record: 7-2

    Grade: A

    Chicago is in the top five in defensive efficiency, and that's the style of basketball Tom Thibodeau wants his Bulls to play throughout the entire season.

    There are a litany of options on the offensive end as every member of the starting five can score, and the Bulls will be a force to be reckoned with as long as everybody can remain healthy.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Record: 8-2

    Grade: A

    Oklahoma City was the first team of the season to win all three games in consecutive days, and the Thunder are just on a different level than any other team in the Western Conference at this time.

    The loss of Eric Maynor (torn ACL) is a bigger one than some might imagine, but with the Thunder roster among the deepest and most talented in the league, the group should be able to overcome it.

    It's worth mentioning that team has a competitive advantage in the chemistry department over most of the opposition, as this core has been able to develop together.

1. Miami Heat

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    Record: 8-1

    Grade: A

    Miami is handling teams even with Dwyane Wade limited by a foot injury, and this team is a lot deeper than at any point last season.

    The emergence of rookie Norris Cole and a healthy Udonis Haslem have helped dramatically, and Mike Miller's return is just around the corner.

    However, the bigger storylines here are LeBron James' newfound approach on the offensive end as well as Chris Bosh's aggressiveness at both ends of the floor.