With preseason basketball starting in about a week, I'm growing antsier every day with the anticipation of the new season. A lot of changes have shifted the power structure in the NBA, so this should be a hugely interesting season.
The twist of this power-ranking article is that every team will be evaluated using the Miami Heat as a measuring stick. The Heat are the defending champs, and until someone proves otherwise, are still the best team in basketball.
I will be power ranking every team as a percentage of the Miami Heat. Therefore, with the Miami Heat being 100 percent, we're going to rank every team as 10 percent as good, 50 percent as good, 90 percent as good and so on.
This is highly unscientific—it's just power ranking with a twist. Don't put too much stock in the percentages, other than how I believe each team stacks up compared to the Heat.
To put it bluntly, the Magic aren't going to be very good this year. Every team has their rebuilding years, and every team finds themselves toiling in mediocrity for some amount of time.
The Magic are just going to be bad.
Their best player is Aaron Afflalo, who is pretty decent. After that, they have unproven and raw rookies, aged and post-prime contract sucking vampires, and essentially have a team full of players who would be on the bench on most other teams.
J.J. Redick is quite talented and hasn't had a chance to prove just how valuable he can be. This is his time to step up and shine, and at least show the world of basketball that he can be a good player and even lead a team.
Basically, they're the Charlotte Bobcats of last season. Don't expect them to be historically bad like the Bobcats, but do expect them to be very bad, and worse than this year's Bobcats.
The Charlotte Bobcats aren't that great either, but they're definitely moving in an upward direction, which is why they get a two-point nod over the Magic.
The Bobcats have some talent on the roster, and are a vastly improved team compared to last season. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a Rookie of the Year candidate, sophomores Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo look to improve, and added veteran talent like Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions are all going to help make Charlotte at least semi-relevant.
They got a steal with Jeffery Taylor, who was considered a mid-20s prospect, at 31st overall, sealing the SF position between him and MKG for years in Charlotte.
That being said, when you see them play the Heat, you're going to see that they are still a long way off from having a respectable fraction of that team's power. Expect improvement, but don't expect too much out of what is still a young, unproven team.
The Sacramento Kings have a ton of talent on their roster that just isn't being used efficiently. The team doesn't seem to mesh together for some reason. Guys like Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and DeMarcus Cousins are excellent NBA players, but it doesn't translate to wins.
Adding Thomas Robinson to inject a spirit of winning into the program was a smart move, but he still doesn't quite fit right into what is already a pretty crowded front court.
The point here is that the Kings, on paper, should win more games than they are going to. They should be higher in these rankings than they are. But the games aren't played on paper, and until the talent on this roster is put together properly, the Kings are going to be one of the worst teams in basketball, regardless of talent.
The Houston Rockets had one of the better drafts in the NBA this season, using their three mid-first round picks effectively by drafting high-talent guys like Terrence Jones, Royce White and Jeremy Lamb.
That being said, the team is young, they've lost a lot of veteran talent, they're banking a lot on Jeremy Lin to bring "Linsanity" to Houston, and they're going to be playing a whole lot of young guys who must pick up the speed of the game extremely quickly.
The Rockets have a bright future, and it's a team that very well could succeed this season. But until the unproven guys prove they belong, the fact is that they geared their offseason to getting Dwight Howard and failed in that endeavor. Being a young team without a standout star is why they're down here.
Bright future, but an extremely hit-or-miss team. I have them swinging for the fences, but missing this season.
The Detroit Pistons are a peculiar team who took two big risks in the draft this season. They took Andre Drummond ninth overall, who many considered a top-three talent, but his stock fell dramatically because of maturity concerns. They took Kim English in the second round, who could be one of the next great shooters in the NBA, or he could just be a three-point specialist off the bench because of his lack of talent, outside of shooting,
Other than that, the Pistons are relying on an aging core and some incoming free cap space to get them through the season. They aren't going to be very good.
Corey Maggette will likely spend the entire season on the bench because he's always hurt, and the only legitimate, proven threat is Greg Monroe. The Pistons won't do much this year, and they took a couple of guys who could hit big or miss hard in the draft. It feels like a Frankenstein team just trying to buy time.
Still just slowly putting it back together, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to have to ask their fans for a little bit more patience. Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao provide a dynamic tandem from backcourt to frontcourt, but other than that, it's just a game of wait-and-see.
They made the questionable (uh, bad) decision to draft Dion Waiters fourth overall, with a lot of other guard talent left on the board. Waiters is a good player, but he wasn't even a starter for Syracuse—he was the college version of James Harden.
Tyler Zeller is the other notable rookie coming in, but to play center, he needs some more muscle. Zeller should succeed in the NBA, but it's probably going to take more than just summer league and training camp to get him up to speed.
Another rebuilding year, another high lottery pick, most likely. Hopefully they won't blow it next time.
Or I could be wrong, and Waiters is great. But I doubt it.
The Suns have been in a dismantling process every since they realized the duo of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire wasn't good enough to win them a championship. Could they have been more efficient? Probably. Have they brought in some good pieces to move the team forward? Yes.
Picking up Goran Dragic and Luis Scola, both from the Houston Rockets, were two under-the-radar moves that should help a lot. Drafting a big-time, pass-first point guard in Kendall Marshall was a big risk, but they're hoping to get some type of Nash-like presence back on the team. Marshal could backfire, but he could flourish, who knows?
Overall, I like this team, I like Marcin Gortat, I like the high-risk/high-reward Michael Beasley pick-up, but this is a team with pretty much no chemistry. It's pretty much a brand new team, and while they have talent, most of it is middle-tier, and most of the pieces have never worked together.
The Suns are doing what they need to do to rebuild, and doing it well. They're still rebuilding, though.
Some people are expecting an immediate turnaround thanks to the addition of Anthony Davis, but there are some problems with this team.
I don't like that Eric Gordon wanted to get out, but was forced to stay. I don't like that he's going to be playing next to Austin Rivers, who for all of his talent, is still unproven in the NBA, and I'm not sure it's a good mix between the two for the backcourt.
Anthony Davis is an excellent defender, a shot-blocking machine and an athletic freak. But he still needs to bulk up if he wants to live up to the hype. I think he can, and I think eventually he will, but I don't think he's going to be the savior of this team.
Ryan Anderson is going to still be a quietly good player, and they're going to improve, but I don't think it's going to be as drastically as many are predicting, despite the team's talent.
The Washington Wizards added some great pieces, but have just received the pretty bad news that John Wall is going to be out for about two months. The patella injury is apparently not serious, and not requiring surgery, but it's still a pretty big blow for a team who was looking like it could have a top-tier backcourt with Wall and incoming rookie Bradley Beal, at least to start the season.
Beal is going to be good. He's a good athlete, he has excellent shooting mechanics, and he made every team with a need for a shooting guard drool. Again, it's going to be interesting to see if his game translates to the NBA like Wizards fans are hoping.
NeNe and Emeka Okafor (as long as he stays healthy) are great front court players, and great locker room guys to help the team bond and build some chemistry.
Once Wall returns, it's going to be a good team with some decent talent, even going into the bench. Another team moving up.
The Toronto Raptors are finally starting to show that the decisions they've made might just be paying off in a big way. Andrea Bargnani, first overall pick in 2006, was once a bust. Last season, the seven-footer scored 19.5 points per game.
It's a roster with a lot of talent, including Jose Calderon, an excellent passer, DeMar DeRozan, who can be great but is inconsistent, and two newcomers from the draft in Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy.
Ross was drafted eighth overall, and I have to admit, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. The Raptors already have an extremely crowded and talented backcourt. Ross is great, but I don't expect him to get much playing time in his first season. Acy is a great talent, and they made a good choice with their second-round selection of him, but don't expect too much from him in his first season.
The really big addition is Jonas Valanciunas, their first-round (fifth overall) pick in 2011. The 6'11" center addresses their need for size, and should move Bargnani over to PF where he belongs. This is a good group of players who could be challenging for a playoff spot if all the players they need to play well come at the top of their game.
The Portland Trailblazers have one bona-fide superstar in LaMarcus Aldridge, who is quietly one of the best players in the game. They have incoming rookie Damian Lillard, who many have pegged as a ROY leading candidate. They also have Myers Leonard, their second of two lottery picks, a seven-footer with serious potential.
What the Blazers don't have is a whole lot of depth. Nicolas Batum is a frustratingly talented player that often shines but often falls flat on his face. Wesley Matthews has done a solid job as a guard, but is not very versatile, J.J. Hickson has potential to be a decent power forward.
Other than that, a bunch of bench players with little to offer and a bunch of guys who don't even have NBA stat-lines.
They're going to rely heavily on their core group of players, which is a good one, and hope a few other pieces step up and do what they can do to make this team good. Aldrigde, Lillard, Leonard and Batum are in for a heavy workload, though.
Let's put it as bluntly as we can—the Atlanta Hawks are praying that star power forward Josh Smith doesn't have a Dwight Howard-like temper tantrum and demand out of the organization due to the loss of Joe Johnson, and what will likely be a mediocre team.
Without Johnson, this team is a lot less threatening. They still have an excellent frontcourt with Smith and Al Horford. They have a logjam of middle-of-the-road talent at PG with Jeff Teague, Lou Williams and Devin Harris, and they took a tremendous reach with their first-round pick to select John Jenkins 23rd overall.
Jenkins, it seems, is who they're trying to replace Johnson with. Ignoring the irony of the alliterating J's, Jenkins won't be able to do what Johnson did. Jenkins had arguably the best shooting mechanics in the NBA draft, but that's seriously all he really can do—shoot.
I didn't expect to see him gone until the very late or early second round; it was clear the Hawks really needed a sharpshooting SG.
This is going to be a weird season for the Hawks, who definitely aren't as good as last year, but I still wouldn't say they're bad. Just average, capable of a low-seed playoff berth.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap allow this team to be this high in the power rankings, because beyond those two players, they have a couple of capable players, but not a whole lot to brag about.
Utah is the type of team that, despite a whole lot of talent, always manages to milk everything out of all of their players, and that should be the same again this season. With no first-round pick in this draft, the Jazz didn't add any new young legs and are going to be a very similar team to last year.
Mo Williams is a serviceable point guard, Gordon Hayward is a pretty decent shooting guard, and Marvin Williams will be their best choice at SF. Not good, not great.
But there's no denying the ridiculous frontcourt tandem of Millsap and Jefferson, who are going to need to play every bit as good as they are capable to get the otherwise starless Jazz to the playoffs.
It could be enough, but it's going to be pretty tough.
I like the Milwaukee Bucks as a team. I like the depth they have for their big men, and I think they have one of the most incredibly talented backcourts in the NBA with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
I'm inclined to put them higher in this list, but until they prove they can handle the pressure of being a playoff-caliber team, which they failed at last season, this is as high as they get.
I think drafting John Henson was one of the best moves of the draft, and I consider Henson one of the most underrated prospects in this year's crop of rookies. They're pretty cramped at PF, but Henson should make an immediate impact.
I'm thinking the Bucks are playoff-bound this season. They definitely have the talent, they just need to maximize it.
With the additions of Harrison Barnes, Fesus Ezeli and Draymond Green in the draft to add to Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Carl Landry, the Golden State Warriors have a ton of talent as far as big men go. Harrison Barnes might be the best-scoring rookie in the class, and David Lee put up 20.1 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game, further establishing himself as a star in the making.
If Stephen Curry can stay healthy, he's as dynamic a point guard as there is in the NBA, and he truly can do it all. Scoring, passing, defending and intangibles—he has everything.
This is, at the very least, one of the most entertaining teams in the country, and I think they're going to prove that this winter.
They're on the verge of turning into a mainstay in the playoffs with this roster, but until they make it there, they're still not half as good as the Miami Heat.
That being said, I'd be more surprised if the Warriors didn't make the playoffs than if they did.
The Minnesota Timberwolves, like the Warriors, are building what is turning into an enormously talented team through patience and sound drafting principles.
Unfortunately for the T-Wolves (and the basketball world in general), Ricky Rubio is still not healthy, and it doesn't look like we're going to see him for a big chunk of the season, dampening the big-time hype associated with Minnesota.
Still, there's plenty to be excited about. Kevin Love is one of the best players in the game, Brandon Roy has the potential to get back to semi-stardom, and the Wolves do have some seriously talented players.
Minnesota didn't add anyone of note to their team via draft this season, so it's going to be up to their core to get them to the promised land. And I personally think Derrick Williams, second overall pick in 2011 and major-bust candidate, is going to show up and play with a vengeance.
Only time will tell, but I'd feel way better about this team if Rubio were healthy.
Amar'e Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chanlder. New York's own Big Three. Well, if the team plays with no chemistry (which they didn't), and one-third of your Big Three is stuck in mediocrity all season (I'm looking at you, Amar'e), then you're not going to get quite what Miami has.
Letting Jeremy Lin go was a huge mistake, and they tried to equalize it with the additions of a far too old Jason Kidd, a not-so-good Raymond Felton and a few other additions that may help slightly, but not too much.
The only positive thing about this is that it's been another season for the Big Three to bond and build some chemistry. They'll almost definitely make the playoffs, but it won't be in dominating fashion. They have teams to watch from below, and they're nowhere near the top like they thought they were before 2011-12.
And like I said, letting Linsanity walk was just stupid, especially when your backup plans are as poor as Kidd and Felton.
Derrick Rose is not likely to be around until at least mid-season, so this ranking is based off a Rose-less lineup.
The Bulls are still pretty good. Carlos Boozer gets a lot of heat, but he's still a solid player, and they have guys like him, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to keep the ship afloat. They have some good middle-of-the-road talent with Nate Robinson (who posted a fantastic player efficiency rating of 18.05 last season), Marco Belinelli and Richard Hamilton to help contribute.
Don't overlook potential spark plug Marquis Teague who they snatched at the end of the first round last season to fill a little of the void Rose is leaving.
But, let's face it: Until Rose is back on the court, this team is only average. I'm giving them a solid rating because they've been the No. 1 seed in the East the past two years, but with a fair amount of the season without Rose, don't expect the Bulls to win as many as last season.
Dirk Nowitzki is still, in my opinion, one of the best in the game. Some say he's slowing down and tired of the Dallas Mavericks as an organization, but I don't think he's going to let that phase him on the court. They added some good talent to replace what they lost last season, as well.
O.J. Mayo was a big pickup, especially after Jason Terry's departure to Boston. Also, guys like Elton Brand, Chris Kaman and Jared Cunningham. And definitely don't sleep on Jae Crowder, second-round pickup, to play a solid SG/SF for the Mavs.
This is still a good team, and it's a team that, despite not a lot of chemistry, will be headlined by Nowitzki, who is still a top-ten player. The Mavs might not make it deep into the postseason, but they will almost definitely make it there.
It's just too bad for them that the West is as deep as it is this season.
Deron Williams finally has some new toys to play with, and with Joe Johnson from Atlanta, the two form what might be the best backcourt in the NBA. Maybe.
They didn't land Dwight Howard, which was definitely a blow to their hopes of becoming a powerhouse, but the team is still pretty good even without D12. Brook Lopez will hopefully be healthy this season, providing a major scoring boost, Kris Humphries proved he's worth a chunk of change last season, and they can still count on Gerald Wallace to be a solid contributor across the board.
They even added Andray Blatche, who I thought was a surefire pickup for the Heat. He could prove to be a major pickup if he can play like he did two years ago with Washington. He just needs the right guidance.
Do not sleep on this team. 11 seems pretty low, but this is a better team than a lot of people think, and they could make a deep playoff run.
The Indiana Pacers are a true team-effort group. They don't have any true superstars, but they do have excellent talent across the board and depth to go along with it.
They showed us last season that they can and will compete with the big boys to make it into and succeed in the playoffs. Within a new environment, Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, David West, Paul George and even possibly D.J. Augustin can make for a very good starting rotation, and they have a fair amount of depth to go along with them.
It's hard to imagine this team as more than a four-seed, and a potential second-round playoff team with the lack of pure star-power, but they could break out even further than last year, especially if Granger and Hibbert break the barrier of two-good-players to two-star-players.
There's a lot to like about the Pacers this season. Except drafting Miles Plumlee, which was one of the worst picks in this year's draft.
It is very hard to look at the Memphis Grizzlies and not be frightened by what they have to offer. Even with O.J. Mayo gone, they still have guys like Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Tony Allen. Plus, they added the extremely athletic Tony Wroten in the draft.
Just stacked. That's all there is to say. Like the Pacers, it's a team-effort kind of thing, but Gay and Gasol are getting close to being great, with Gay already probably there. Not many players have the athleticism that Rudy Gay has.
They have size, they have shooting, they have solid position-players all around the court, it's just hard to find too many serious flaws.
Except, like Indiana, you can't catch up to the big guys without a group of serious superstars. The Grizz are almost there, but not quite.
Okay, only part of the reason they're at 76 percent is because they're the Philadelphia 76ers. I was going to make it 75 percent, but I figured a one-point bump wouldn't hurt for the sake of symmetry.
They came away from the mega-deal involving Dwight Howard without franchise centerpiece Andre Iguodala, but they picked up a new one with Andrew Bynum, one of the best centers in the game and who seems like he might even improve in Philly.
With guys like Bynum, Nick Young, Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holliday and some others, they have solid players in every position, and I absolutely loved the draft pickup of Arnett Moultrie.
You can make a case for both the Grizzlies and the Pacers to be above the Sixers, but I think Bynum alone puts them over both of those teams altogether. With solid play from all positions, depth and locker room bonding, this is going to be another good Sixers team.
I also think Evan Turner may have a big-time breakout year. Watch out for him once he gets his shot locked in.
This is a team essentially packed with a bunch of guys who can score around 10 points per game, and do enough across the board to be considered serious threats, especially under the leadership of George Karl.
The exchange of Andre Iguodala for Aaron Afflalo almost doesn't even seem fair. Afflalo is a good player and a solid scorer, but Iggy is so much more. He's a scorer, a rebounder, a good passer, a good defender and a pure leader. He's the bonding element this team needs to be great, and I expect a rebound year from Iggy after a sub-par year statistically from him last season.
Ty Lawson has suddenly become one of the best point guards in the NBA, and I don't see why the little guy will stop anytime soon. With Afflalo out of the mix, his new backcourt partner could be first round pickup Evan Fournier, who should be able to at least match what Afflalo did.
Another team-effort group of guys, but a really good one with excellent leadership. The past four teams all have fairly similar full-team approaches, but I think Denver is going to be the best of the group.
Now we're starting to get down to serious contenders. I had a tough time placing a few of these last six, so don't get too bent out of shape if your favorite team "got the shaft".
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul form one of the best scoring duos in basketball, and Chris Paul is, for my money, the best point guard in the game. The Los Angeles Clippers are struggling to re-sign him though, which means trouble could be on the horizon for the Clips.
With additional talent like DeAndre Jordan, Lamar Odom (should make for even better LA rivalry games), Jamal Crawford and a hopefully healthy Chauncey Billups, this is going to be a great team for at least one more season.
Blake Griffin desperately needs to learn defense, and Chris Paul is going to be grabbing a lot of headlines regarding free agency, but this is still not a team to sleep on. Could be tooled for a big playoff run.
The Boston Celtics were able to hold onto Kevin Garnett, which I think was a good thing, and I'm extremely excited to get to watch Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and now Jason Terry play together as Boston's slightly altered Big Four.
For my money, Terry is an upgrade over Allen. Allen is and forever will be the better all-time player, but the role thrust upon him in Boston was far past what his legs could do, and Terry should be an upgrade for at least a season or two.
They also added a steal with Jared Sullinger in the draft, and picked up another big man in Fab Melo, who probably won't make quite as much of an impact from the beginning, but will likely see plenty of playing time.
Boston still has a great team, and they should be viewed as a dark horse this season. They have depth, new young talent and the majority of the core that has made them so successful these past few years.
Plus I can't wait to see Rajon Rondo play again. Big-time playmaker.
Still, don't let that bother you. They're still pretty damn good. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and even Stephen Jackson are all old guys who are still fighting hard for the Spurs and were a force to be reckoned with last season, before they firmly hit the brick wall of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Still, expect greatness out of at least Duncan and Parker, who will prove to be two of the best in the game in their respective areas of expertise. Ginobili still has a hot stroke to get the team a needed three, and this team is awash with depth like Boris Diaw, the drastically underrated and underutilized DeJuan Blair, and yes, even Stephen A. Smith's favorite, Tiago Splitter, who is a great center.
There's a reason this team went on a tear to end the regular season and the start of the postseason last year—because they're still very good, despite their age. One has to wonder when it starts hurting them, because it has to happen sooner or later. But for now, they're still among the best.
Okay, let me have it. I know I probably deserve it. On paper, the Lakers are a better team than the Oklahoma City Thunder, but if you read this full article, you'll see I'm going on a "prove it first" basis.
And until the Los Angeles Lakers can prove that this quagmire of basketball royalty fits together, they will still be second place to the Thunder.
Dwight Howard is the best center in the game, there's no denying that. But statistically, he won't be that much of an improvement over Andrew Bynum, and it's going to be interesting to see if D12 can handle being one of four star players and if he can mesh with Pau Gasol and vice versa.
Adding Steve Nash was brilliant, but Kobe Bryant and Nash have an ugly past, and it's going to be enormously interesting to see if the two can bond. If they can, this is the second-best team in the NBA, possibly the best.
Kobe is still an elite scorer, and the starting five on paper is as unstoppable as it gets. Have to see if it works on the court, though.
We saw it in the Finals last season, when the Miami Heat basically had their way with the Oklahoma City Thunder, that OKC is still showing some signs of youth.
Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the game, period. Russell Westbrook is a top-three point guard, Serge Ibaka is a ridiculous defender down low, and James Harden off the bench is something no team can match. It's a great core group of players, and they're going to have something to say to the new-look Lakers about who's the best in the west.
Unfortunately, a lot of headlines will focus on Harden's possible departure either before, during, or after the season, as it appears that the Thunder won't be able to re-sign him.
That could bring the team's mojo down a bit, but Harden seems like the kind of guy who can work through it, and everyone on this team is capable of rising above the headlines.
With a taste of the Finals in their mouth, they're hungry for the full plate. They just might be able to take it.
Sorry for the lack of suspense, but yeah...the Miami Heat are the best in the game until someone else proves otherwise.
Anyone who argues that LeBron James isn't the best player in the game is out of their mind. No other player can score, pass, rebound and defend like him. He truly does it all on the court. He's a one-man wrecking crew with an entire team to help emphasize how incredible he is.
Dwyane Wade played much of last season injured, but is still a fantastic player and will hopefully be at 100 percent this coming season. Chris Bosh, despite statistically dropping off since arriving in Miami, is still an excellent power forward/center and is going to average nearly a double-double every night.
Adding Ray Allen to the mix almost doesn't even seem fair. He won't have the same "superstar" role he had in Boston; much of what Allen will be responsible for will be giving the Heat a reliable three-point shooter, which was one of the very few things they lacked last season. He won't be overworked, and he should be able to play a big role in Miami.
If the Heat have weaknesses, it's depth and at point guard, but for a team that doesn't really play based off of positional certainty, that's not a big deal. They just have to have someone go out there who can get the job done, which Mario Chalmers can do.
This is still the best team in the game, but they're going to get challenged big-time this season.