NBA Caste System: Ranking Your Teams Level 1-5
Power rankings are a great metric to see where your favorite team is in comparison with the rest, but they do not do justice to the hierarchy in the NBA.
In actuality, there are five classes in the Association, with big differences visible between even Level 4 and Level 5.
I do have to pay homage to Bill Simmons because his ranking of players in The Book of Basketball inspired me to do the same for the current teams in the league.
After the first month of the season, I will hopefully be able to re-do these rankings because obviously a lot of this is in flux.
But for now this is what the state of the NBA is two months before the season begins.
Level 1: The Bottom Feeders
30. Charlotte Bobcats
29. Orlando Magic
28. Houston Rockets
27. Sacramento Kings
26. Cleveland Cavaliers
25. New Orleans Hornets
24. Detroit Pistons
23. Portland Trailblazers
22. Toronto Raptors
Level 1 is the biggest group of the five tiers and is composed of mostly young teams that are comprised of many rookies and second and third year players.
Cleveland and New Orleans have the biggest upside of the group because they possess championship cornerstones in Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis. Both could be among the top ten teams in the league in three to four seasons.
Detroit, Toronto and Portland have the potential to be playoff teams in the future, especially if their young stars pan out. However, all three are still not championship contenders if everything works out positively.
Sacramento's fortunes might turn if they can figure out a way to better utilize Tyreke Evans, and if they bring in a pass-first point guard, a move which would benefit DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson greatly.
The bottom four teams are really the ones that are in dire straits.
Charlotte, even after a fairly successful offseason, is simply devoid of talent right now. I would be shocked if they even make the playoffs in 5 years. Houston and Orlando have probably the worst cap flexibility of the group and are still a long ways from contending.
Level 2: The Lower Class
21. Phoenix Suns
20. Milwaukee Bucks
18. Utah Jazz
17. Golden State Warriors
16. Atlanta Hawks
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
Level 2 is probably the one that will be in flux throughout the year. Some of these teams might make the leap up to Level 3, and some might even drop to the infamous Level 1 status.
Washington and Golden State successfully upgraded from Level 1 to Level 2 status by making shrewd moves during the offseason and by drafting franchise players in Bradley Beal and Harrison Barnes. Both teams have the potential to make the playoffs, especially if they stay healthy all season.
Phoenix and Milwaukee are those in-between teams who will struggle to make the playoffs, but will be too good to acquire a decent lottery pick that will dramatically help their teams. However, Milwaukee will likely be a playoff contender in the future with players like Tobias Harris and Ekpe Udoh improving.
Utah is in an awkward position in that they do not necessarily want to keep Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson because the two hamper the progress of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, but they do help the team become playoff contenders.
Same goes for Atlanta who could net a solid return for Josh Smith but are likely going to hold onto him in the hopes of picking up a low seeded team in the shallow Eastern Conference.
The Timberwolves have the biggest upside of the group without a doubt, and I would not be surprised if they place among the top 10 teams in the league by the end of the year. With that said I wouldn't be shocked if they fail to make the playoffs in a deep Western Conference.
Level 3: The Middle Class
14. New York Knicks
13. Dallas Mavericks
12. Chicago Bulls
11. Brooklyn Nets
10. Philadelphia 76ers
Level 3 teams are playoffs-bound, and only a major injury will derail them and make them lottery-bound. However, these teams still need either a major trade or the emergence of a player for them to seriously contend for a championship.
You can make the case that the order of the "Middle Class" should be completely rearranged in due part because each team has a glaring weakness that needs to be fixed.
New York and Dallas will struggle with chemistry issues throughout the season for different reasons. While the Mavericks have basically taken apart their championship team from 2011, the Knicks have two players, in Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony who simply can't co-exist.
It would be a shock if either team made it past the first round.
Brooklyn and Philadelphia will be competing for the second spot in the Atlantic Division, and both team have enough weapons to make it to the second round of the playoffs. However, a Conference Finals berth is very unlikely.
Then there's the Chicago Bulls. If Derrick Rose is healthy and ready by the beginning of the season, I see the Bulls teetering in Level 4. Without him they are still a lock for the playoffs, but Chicago might have to face a Boston or Miami team earlier in the playoffs than they would want.
Level 4: The Upper-Middle Class
9. Memphis Grizzlies
8. Indiana Pacers
7. Los Angeles Clippers
6. Denver Nuggets
5. San Antonio Spurs
4. Boston Celtics
My favorite group of the five levels is Level 4 because all six teams are completely different from one another, but find ways to win basketball games.
Of the Level 4 teams listed, Memphis has the most potential to win the Western Conference if everybody stays healthy, and if they regain the confidence that carried them in the 2011 playoffs. One injury to Zach Randolph or Rudy Gay would effectively end their chances of doing anything big in the playoffs, however.
Indiana is a very good and feisty team in the East but does not seem to have what it takes to get it done in the postseason. The Pacers are basically a second-round lock save for if they play the Bulls in the first round and Derrick Rose is completely acclimated to the speed of the games.
It is hard to read Los Angeles and Denver because both teams are elite, but I would be shocked if they made the NBA Finals. Don't get me wrong. Both teams have the depth to make a deep postseason run, but they lack the weapons to top the best in the West. (We'll get to that in a second).
Then there's the two veteran teams, Boston and San Antonio. They got outed by the young guns last season in the Conference Finals despite outplaying them for long stretches at a time. The Celtics made their bench infinitely deeper this season and will be a threat to the Heat, especially if everyone stays healthy.
I have learned to never count the Spurs out, and I do not plan on doing so now. With Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili returning, San Antonio will be just as lethal a year ago, but they might not perform as well in the playoffs simply because the stiff competition in the West.
Level 5: The Upper Class
3. Los Angeles Lakers
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
1. Miami Heat
Level 5 marks the best of the best. I would be shocked if one of these teams did not at least make the Finals. I expect two of these teams to compete to be the best of the NBA's 2012-13 season.
For Los Angeles, Oklahoma City and Miami, anything less than a championship this season would be a failure, and any fan of one of these teams has every right to have these expectations.
When the Heat are playing at their highest level, it is virtually impossible to beat them. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's presence on the wing provides so many match-up problems for opposing teams while Chris Bosh proves to be the x-factor down low.
The Thunder fell short in the NBA Finals against Miami, looking out of sorts in the last four games of the series. Even so Oklahoma City's young core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden is still good enough to win a title.
Then you have the Los Angeles Lakers. There were the biggest winners in the offseason after netting Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. All of a sudden the Lakers went from being leagues apart from the Thunder to close combatants. A potential series between the two would probably go seven games.
All in all, these three teams have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Boston and San Antonio have the best chance of cracking Level 5.
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