NBA Power Rankings: Grading the Strength in Each Division

Danny Paskas@DannyPaskasSenior Analyst IMarch 9, 2012

NBA Power Rankings: Grading the Strength in Each Division

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    While most power rankings are based on teams, this one is based on each division. Each division has their strengths and weaknesses and star power.

    With Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio turning the Minnesota Timberwolves into a possible playoff-bound team, the Northwest Division recently got a boost.

    The Pacific Division remains the same, even with Chris Paul being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers since the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns are not the powers they once were.

    The Southwest Division remains one of the strongest divisions, with the three Texas teams and the Memphis Grizzlies getting better each season.

    The Southeast Division possibly has the most star power, with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and maybe for the time being, Dwight Howard.

    Here are the grades for each division.

Atlantic Division: B-

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    With the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics, the Philadelphia 76ers' fast start and the nonstop talk about the New Jersey Nets getting Dwight Howard to pair up with Deron Williams, the Atlantic Division should be renamed the all-hype division.

    The Knicks' Big Three of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, along with Linsanity, has produced a lot of national television exposure, but in the end, the team's record remains under .500.

    The team to beat in this division remains the Boston Celtics, no matter how old they are. After their slow start, the Celtics have picked up their game recently. After a five-game winning streak, Boston is now within two games of Philly for the division lead, and that's after their loss to the Sixers last night.

    In the last five games, Paul Pierce is averaging 23.4 points per game and has scored over 30 points in two of those games. Before the loss to Philly, Kevin Garnett was averaging double-digit rebounds while scoring 16.8 points per game in his last five games. Rajon Rondo has been averaging 12.2 points, 12.6 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game. Ray Allen is averaging 14.5 points per game while shooting a career-best 47.2 from three.

    I'm sorry, Philly fans, but a starting lineup that features Elton Brand as the starting power forward would have worked five years ago, but now, it just won't get the job done.

    After opening the season with a 20-9 record, the Sixers are just 2-8 in their last 10 games. With a bunch of good players, but not one great player, they are a flawed team. They had a nice early run, but Boston has proved they still have something left in the tank for one last Finals run.

Central Division: B

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    The division is top-heavy with the Chicago Bulls, who own the best record in the league at 33-8, and the Indiana Pacers.

    The Bulls have Derrick Rose, the NBA's reigning MVP, who is averaging 22.7 points, 7.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. While Chicago does not have any superstar pairing, they have a very solid team with players that know their role in Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng. They are a team that shares the ball, as they rank first in the league in assists per game. They are also a team that plays great defense; they rank second in the league in points allowed.

    The Pacers are a very well-built team with a lot of depth. They don't have any superstars, at least not yet, as Paul George may grow into one in a few years. George is a 6'8'' shooting guard averaging 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game in his second season. He does this without being the focus of the offense, scoring most of his points in transition. With his long arms and speed, he is also a good defender.

    Indiana also has a solid center in Roy Hibbert and a dangerous scorer in Danny Granger, who is capable of having a 30-point game on any given night. For the season, Granger is averaging 18 points per game.

    In the offseason, the Pacers added power forward David West. West's addition gives the Pacers more offense in the frontcourt and made their power forward position stronger. Now, they have former first-round pick Tyler Hansbrough coming off the bench to provide energy and tough defense.

    In the middle of the division are the scrappy Milwaukee Bucks, coached by Scott Skiles. Their 15-24 record is deceiving. Andrew Bogut has been out with an ankle injury. This season, they have beaten the Miami Heat twice.

    At the bottom of the division are the Detroit Pistons and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Both are in rebuilding mode, but both seem to have somewhat promising futures. The Cavs have point guard Kyrie Irving, and the Pistons have Greg Monroe to expedite the process. 

Southeast Division: A

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    The Southeast Division deserves an A, since it is the best division in the Eastern Conference. The division has arguably the best player in the league in LeBron James and the best big man in the game in Dwight Howard, at least for the time being.

    With LeBron having an MVP-type season, averaging 27.7 points, 6.7 assists and 8.4 rebounds per game, and Chris Bosh adding about 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason to raise his level of play, the Miami Heat have a record of 30-9 so far this season. Oh yeah, they also have Dwayne Wade helping out too, averaging 22.4 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game.

    Even with all the speculation of Howard's future, the Orlando Magic, at 25-15, have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.

    While Howard is having a career year in scoring and rebounding, Ryan Anderson is a possible Most Improved Player of the Year winner. Anderson has raised his scoring from 9.9 to 16.3 points per game. He's also averaging 2.6 rebounds more per game. Lastly, he's shooting 42 percent from the three-point line.

    The division would be even stronger if the Atlanta Hawks didn't lose one of their best players, Al Horford, to a torn pectoral muscle in the 11th game of the season. In those 11 games, they had a record of 7-4. While they are missing him, they still have fared well, as they are 23-16.

    As good as the Miami Heat are, the two teams at the bottom of the division are just as bad. The Washington Wizards have won nine games all season, while the Charlotte Bobcats have won only five games.

Northwest Division: A

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    With Oklahoma City, Denver, Minnesota, Utah and Portland, it is the most well-rounded division in the league. This division should remain strong for a long time since Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love are all still young. If Portland could ever stay healthy, the division would be even scarier.

    Oklahoma City does not have their Big Three, but rather, just two stars in Westbrook, the league's fifth-leading scorer, and Durant, the league’s second-leading scorer, and a bunch of solid role players. James Harden is a possible Sixth Man of the Year Winner who is averaging 16.8 points per game off the bench. Kendrick Perkins is a solid defender who plays the enforcer role well, except while getting dunked on by Blake Griffin. Serge Ibaka is a huge defensive presence on the inside blocking 3.2 shots per game.

    This season might be the one when this young group reaches the Finals for the first time.

    With a 21-19 record, the Minnesota Timberwolves already have more wins than they had all of last season. Ricky Rubio has proved to be better than advertised. As a rookie, he is averaging 10.5 points, 8.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Kevin Love may be the best power forward in the league; he leads the league in double-doubles and is averaging 25.5 points and 13.8 rebounds per game.

    With Michael Beasley taking the minutes away from last year's second-overall pick, Derrick Williams, the team has not even seen what the rookie could really do when given the starting role.

    If Minnesota keeps winning, Love should get some MVP consideration.

    The Denver Nuggets are the anti-star team, and they are doing just fine. At 22-18, they are second in the division. They lead the league in points per game, are second in the league in assists per game and are fifth in the league in rebounds per game.

    The Nuggets are a true team. While Danilo Gallinari is their leading scorer with 16.1 points per game, they also have a total of nine players scoring eight or more points per game. They are a balanced threat and play hard for their head coach, George Karl. If opposing teams are not ready to run, the Denver Nuggets will put on a clinic in transition offense.

    The Utah Jazz are an up-and-coming team. Management did the right thing when they made the proactive decision to trade Deron Williams last season. Rather than concentrating on Williams' expiring contract, they get to concentrate on just playing basketball.

    Gordon Hayward looks like a solid player who is comfortable as a starter or coming off the bench. While Derrick Favors is developing slowly, he looks to be a real contributor in the future. Enes Kanter is averaging 4.9 rebounds per game in just 14.3 minutes per game. Once Kanter develops any sort of offensive game, he can be a beast down low.

    Portland is a team of what-ifs. If they ever get healthy or next time, draft Kevin Durant over Greg Oden, they should work out just fine.

Pacific Division: B

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    The Pacific Division is a division in transition. With both of the Los Angeles teams, it  is a top-heavy division. And with the Clippers possibly better than the Lakers, it is a weird division.

    If three seasons ago someone would have told me that the Clippers would be a much more exciting team than the Lakers, I would've probably slapped them. But that's what happens when David Stern cancels a trade that would've sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, and in turn, winds up playing in the Staples Center anyway, but for the team wearing red and white.

    While they don't look to be title contenders just yet, Blake Griffin and Paul are a good duo to build on. If they are able to upgrade at small forward, the Clippers can possibly be on their way to winning multiple championships.

    The Los Angeles Lakers are still a good team. At 33 years old and after 15 years in the NBA, Kobe Bryant is leading the league in scoring with 28.7 points per game. Andrew Bynum is as healthy as he could be and is averaging a career-best in points per game (16.7) and rebounds per game with 12.6. And despite being in trade talks for most of the season, Pau Gasol is averaging 16.8 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.

    The Lakers' problem is that they are a team in transition with new coach Mike Brown, as they switched from the triangle offense to a more conventional one that utilizes the point guard position more. To add to the problem, Derek Fisher and Steve Blake are No. 1 and No. 2 on the point guard depth chart.

    The division would've really been something if the Clippers' ''Lob City'' was around at the same time the Phoenix Suns' ''Eight Seconds or Less'' offense was going on.

    The Suns are a shell of their former selves. Gone is Amare Stoudemire; long gone is Joe Johnson. Steve Nash is being loyal to a fault with the franchise, as they should be in rebuilding mode rather than where they are now.

    The Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings are both interesting teams. The Warriors are always pretty fun to watch, with Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry. David Lee is a very serviceable power forward, averaging 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.

    Golden State has young talent, but new coach Mark Jackson has failed to to get his defensive philosophy through to the team as of yet. As a team, they are giving up on 100.1 points per game. At 15-21, they may be better off with another trip to the lottery to add another piece.

    The Sacramento Kings also have the young talent in Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings need veteran leadership and a coach that would demand respect while not letting them get away with a poor effort on the defensive end. As a team, the Kings are giving up 102.6 points per game.

Southwest Division: B+

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    The Southwest Division is dominated by three Texas teams and the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs seem like they will never just go away. At 26-12, they have the second-best record in the West. This is even with Manu Ginobili missing time. Head coach Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in the league, if not the best, knows the pulse of his team and wants to rest them to make it through the compacted season.

    Last time the NBA had a short season, San Antonio won the championship. I would not rule out a repeat.

    The reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks are still a team not to be taken lightly. Even without Tyson Chandler, they are still a team that can make some noise come playoff time. They are a veteran team with a lot of depth with Jason Terry, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Dirk Nowitzki is still a superstar averaging 20 points per game. If they are able to get anything out of Lamar Odom, they'll be a problem in a seven-game series.

    Even with Zach Randolph playing in only four games this season, the Memphis Grizzlies are currently the third seed in the Western Conference. Rudy Gay is averaging 19.1 points per game. Marc Gasol is averaging 15.4 points and 10 rebounds per game. In all, the Grizzlies have seven players scoring eight points or more per game. Their scoring should go up when Randolph gets back.

    Besides the balanced scoring, Memphis also has a balanced defense. Tony Allen is a great perimeter defender while Gasol takes care of anything close to the basket. As a team, they are allowing just 91.9 points per game.

    The Houston Rockets have been a bit surprising. As of right now, they are 21-19, just out of the playoffs because of the tiebreaker with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Kevin Martin is averaging 17.7 points per game, and Kyle Lowry has been playing very well.

    They've also got unexpected contributions from second-round pick Chandler Parsons. Parsons even has worked his way into the starting small forward position ahead of last year's starter, Chase Budinger, and last year's first-round pick, Marcus Morris. Last night, against the Toronto Raptors, Parsons scored a career-high 19 points. For the season, he is averaging 8.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

    The New Orleans Hornets are the division's bottom-feeder, with only nine wins. Gone is Chris Paul, while Chris Kaman is likely gone at the trade deadline. The main piece the Hornets got back in the Chris Paul trade, Eric Gordon, has only played in two games. New Orleans is in complete rebuilding mode.