NBA Power Rankings: Which Teams Are Feeling Confident After Good Offseason?
The Heat roll in as the odds-on favorites to repeat as champions. The other 29 teams have jostled over the offseason, prepping their rosters and fortifying the ship, in hopes of taking down LeBron James and Co.
Several teams have propelled themselves up the power rankings due to offseason additions. While some of these record projections are reactionary, in the sense that none of us have seen how some of these teams are actually going to gel, it is possible to gain some type of preseason perspective on how things may shake out come June.
That said, let's look at my first issue of power rankings of the season as we all head into training camp amped for the first full season since the lockout.
30) Charlotte Bobcats
The Bobcats added Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and have some promising young talents in Gerald Henderson, Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo.
It's going to take a lot more than some decent prospects to pull out of the cellar though, and the Bobcats will be getting ready for another high lottery pick, hoping this year it's the No. 1 overall.
Projected Record: 19-63
29) Orlando Magic
The wake of the Dwight Howard fiasco has left the Magic roster in disarray, but Jameer Nelson will likely have a career year, and J.J. Redick may do the same.
New addition Aaron Afflalo will have a chance to take his game to the next level, while Glen Davis will serve as leadership for the Magic's young front line.
Still, it's hard to imagine the Magic winning more than 25 games this season and 22 seems more likely. Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington are two horrible contracts, and neither player has much trade value.
Projected Record: 22-60
28) Washington Wizards
The news that John Wall is out for eight weeks hurts, but the Wizards weren't going anywhere anytime soon regardless.
Bradley Beal may give Wizards fans a reason for hope, but unless John Wall becomes the kind of franchise cornerstone and leader that made him a No. 1 overall pick, this team can't do much more than plug along with a middling roster.
Projected Record: 23-59
27) Detroit Pistons
Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight have the makings of a very good duo, but drafting Andre Drummond signals that the Pistons are willing to be patient while waiting for things to develop.
After last year, Austin Daye is looking like a bust, and Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon were poor options for GM Joe Dumars to spend his cap room on.
Projected Record: 25-57
26) Phoenix Suns
The Goran Dragic era begins this year, as the Suns waved goodbye to two-time MVP Steve Nash.
Adding former Timberwolves Wes Johnson and Michael Beasley will provide long-term hope, but the road to relevance is still a long one post-Nash.
Losing Channing Frye for the year to a heart ailment took this team down from 29 potential wins to 27. Suns fans everywhere are wailing.
Projected Record: 27-55
25) Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving has the makings of a superstar and perennial All-Star, but he's surrounded by below-replacement level starters.
Tristan Thompson will progress further as he works on his post game more and develops chemistry with Irving. Anderson Varejao must mentor Tyler Zeller and help him learn the ropes as an NBA big man.
Projected Record: 28-56
24) Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers likely won't be very competitive this year with Damian Lillard starting at the point and trying to learn the NBA's toughest position as a rookie.
But a team can only be so bad with LaMarcus Aldridge on the squad, and he alone makes the Blazers better than, well, six teams anyway.
Projected Record: 30-52
23) Houston Rockets
The Rockets will basically go as far as Jeremy Lin and Kevin Martin carry them. That backcourt is pretty solid (at least offensively), but the front line of Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson and Omer Asik is far below average.
It takes more than a good backcourt to make the playoffs, and Kevin McHale will be wise to give time to the trio of 2012 first-round picks Royce White, Jeremy Lamb and Terrence Jones as the team builds for the future.
Projected Record: 30-52
22) Sacramento Kings
The Kings have the talent. Now it is just a matter of becoming a team. With the likes of Marcus Thornton, DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, and second-year point guard Isaiah Thomas, the Kings could potentially come together and play some good basketball.
Cousins must keep his nose out of trouble, and Evans must return to the brilliance he exhibited as a rookie.
Projected Record: 32-50
21) New Orleans Hornets
A lot of people are plugging the new-look Hornets as a possible eighth seed in the 2013 playoffs. That's premature.
Anthony Davis is going to need some time to adjust to playing against NBA competition; Eric Gordon still has to reach full form following last season's knee injury.
Ryan Anderson will have to see if he can get it done without Dwight Howard, and Austin Rivers will try to prove he can play point. The Hornets could make some waves by the 2014 playoffs, at the earliest, but this year, it's likely a return to the lottery.
Projected Record: 35-47
20 ) Utah Jazz
The Jazz managed to get into the playoffs last year, but didn't really get any better this offseason—at all. Meanwhile, all the teams around them did.
Newly acquired Mo Williams is a step back at point guard from Devin Harris. Former Hawks forward Marvin Williams never panned out as a No. 2 overall draft pick. And Gordon Hayward may not have a very high ceiling, despite exhibiting good potential as a scoring guard.
This team will go as far as the inside tandem of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson can get them, and I'm guessing that will be a trip to the lottery this year. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter may replace Millsap and Jefferson in eventuality as the Jazz continue to transition in the post-D-Will era.
Projected Record: 36-46
19) Golden State Warriors
This will be the first year of the Andrew Bogut experiment. The Warriors sent Monta Ellis packing, but have yet to see how their new center gels with the lineup, as he was injured at the time of the acquisition.
Klay Thompson will have every opportunity to shine with Ellis out of the way, and Harrison Barnes has Jamal Mashburn-like potential.
Throw in a talented big man in David Lee and a hopefully healthy Stephen Curry, and the Warriors have one of the better starting fives in the league. They just don't have enough depth behind it, nor have they proven they can play defense.
Projected Record: 37-45
18) Atlanta Hawks
The argument has been made that the Hawks actually got better after cutting Joe Johnson loose in a cap-clearing trade with Brooklyn. I'm not buying that. Who are the Hawks going to use to close out quarters and games?
Newly acquired former Sixer Lou Williams offers that as a perimeter player, and Al Horford is a proven All-Star, but I just don't see how the Hawks got better by removing a player who consistently averaged 20/5/5, and filling the hole left in the lineup with Anthony Morrow.
Williams is going to have to play out of his mind for the Hawks to sniff the playoffs. Josh Smith will be a free agent by year's end and could be moved before the trade deadline.
Projected Record: 38-44
17) Milwaukee Bucks
The emergence of Ersan Ilyasova made Andrew Bogut expendable, and the reward was Monta Ellis. With Ellis and point guard Brandon Jennings, the Bucks have one of the best scoring backcourts in the league now.
Defense could be a problem, but the trio of Ilyasova, Ellis and Jennings is a pretty underrated "Big Three" in its own right. Okay, so maybe not many will be talking about the Bucks having a Big Three, but they could make the playoffs. Fear the Deer?
Projected Record: 39-43
16) Toronto Raptors
The Raptors have a lot of reasons to be excited.
They just obtained one of the most underrated point guards in the league in Kyle Lowry, and they're also bringing aboard 2011 No. 5 overall pick Jonas Valanciunas.
He will enable Andrea Bargnani to shift to power forward, while Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan are both very good, young, athletic swingmen. Throw in the fact that the Raptors have some solid backups at all positions and this is a squad that will sneak into the playoffs with an eight seed.
Projected Record: 40-42
15) New York Knicks
The Knicks still have a great duo in Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, but they have yet to develop much chemistry. Stoudemire appears to be a shadow of the player he once was, shooting too many jumpers, while Melo doesn't involve teammates.
The Knicks lost the best thing they had going for themselves in Jeremy Lin, as they reeled off seven straight victories with him starting.
Then, Melo came back, and the Knicks returned to mediocrity. It's not hard to figure out. Instead of going with what worked, Knicks management went with what cost more—Melo. It's not like they could move him even if they wanted to with an albatross contract and a detrimental effect on teammates.
Projected Record: 41-41
14) Dallas Mavericks
It's hard to imagine a team with Dirk Nowitzki not being competitive, but the Mavericks have regressed—a lot. Losing Tyson Chandler hurt more than most expected it would, as it crippled their defense.
Jason Kidd is now in New York (not that he was particularly effective at the end of his tenure in Dallas anyway). The Mavs basically start four replacement-level starters (Shawn Marion, O.J. Mayo, Darren Collison, Chris Kaman) and Dirk.
That's enough to make the playoffs, but not enough to do much more.
Projected Record: 43-39
13) Chicago Bulls
It's difficult to rank the Bulls without Derrick Rose. They're still a playoff team, and we still don't know when Rose will be back. The timetable isn't definitive.
Accordingly, this cast of role players will have to see what they're able to do without their MVP point guard. My guess is not that much.
Projected Record: 43-39
12) Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers got the best end of the four-team trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers. Repeat that with me: The 76ers got a better shake than the Lakers.
They obtained the second-best center in the league in Andrew Bynum for a player they had been trying to trade anyway (Andre Iguodala) and spare parts (prospects Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic, and a first rounder).
Pairing Bynum with the emerging Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner will give the Sixers a dangerous squad.
Projected Record: 46-36
11) Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have one of the best starting fives in the league. They don't, however, have the depth necessary to push the top teams in the East.
Mikhail Prokharov promised a championship within three years, and that isn't actually all that unrealistic. The Nets were able to obtain Joe Johnson without giving up MarShon Brooks (or much of anything, for that matter), and they re-signed Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries.
With Johnson taking pressure off D-Will, expect both of them to fare a lot better with nicer percentages and fewer turnovers.
Projected Record: 47-35
10) Indiana Pacers
The Pacers got off to a good start against the Miami Heat in the 2012 playoffs, but were unable to close out the series after taking a 2-1 lead. They didn't do much in the offseason to address that failure.
Accordingly, they're likely going to finish third or fourth in the East, and be eliminated in the second round again.
Projected Record: 49-33
9) Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves were a Ricky Rubio injury away from making some serious noise, and Kevin Love is in most eyes the best power forward in the NBA.
With a healthy Rubio and Brandon Roy playing anywhere near like the Brandon Roy of old, this team will shock people who aren't yet aware that Love and Rubio are the real deal.
Projected Record: 50-32
8) Denver Nuggets
If the Nuggets were in the East, they would be the third-best team and win 54-56 games. Instead, they have to contend with the more talented conference, and their squad of underrated stars need only learn to play defense to take the next step.
Without a true superstar, people aren't prone to giving them the respect afforded to the top super teams; but Danilo Gallinari, Ty Lawson and Andre Iguodala are all fringe All-Stars, and that's a pretty tough nucleus—in either conference.
Projected Record: 51-31
7) Memphis Grizzlies
The tough thing about the Memphis Grizzlies is pinpointing just what is keeping them from reaching the next level. Just saying "They're not good enough" doesn't do any justice to the situation. Their front line is among the best in the NBA with the athletic Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
The Grizz backcourt is underrated and solid, as Mike Conley has finally performed to expectations and Tony Allen is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. The Grizzlies are very good, but it's tough to determine what they need to change to be great.
Projected Record: 52-30
6) Los Angeles Clippers
The L.A. Clippers now have the deepest team in the league with a host of talented veterans (Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, etc) to back up a very talented starting five of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Chris Paul makes everyone around him better, and Griffin goes from good to great with Paul on the floor. The Clippers were on the verge of threatening the West's best before Billups went down with an Achilles injury.
Projected Record: 55-27
5) Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics took the Miami Heat to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals without their best perimeter defenders in Avery Bradley and Jeff Green.
Adding that defensive presence and replacing the only key player lost (by bringing in Jason Terry before Ray Allen bolted for Miami) will keep the Celtics among the elite.
They no longer have the original Big Three, but a lot of people see similarities between this 2012-13 squad and the 2007-08 team that won the title.
Projected Record: 55-27
4) San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio kept their roster intact and they're still one of the league's best. So why does no one take them as seriously as the Lakers, Heat and Thunder? Simply, because they are old.
Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are on their last legs, though Tony Parker is still in the heart of his prime and one of the league's best point guards year in and year out.
The Spurs have some good young talent to replace the old fellas when they hang it up in Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair and Danny Green, but the Spurs will likely fall short in their quest for another title.
Projected Record: 58-24
3) Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder rolled through the Western Conference, but just didn't have what it took to match up with the Heat.
Kevin Durant won his third straight scoring title, and Russell Westbrook has entered the discussion for the best point guard in the league. But the Thunder are now focused on just keeping the talent they have accumulated in place.
With James Harden set to become a free agent this summer, the Thunder need to make another Finals run to convince him that Oklahoma City is the place to spend his career, rather than being an alpha dog on a poor team.
Projected Record: 60-22
2) Miami Heat
It's hard to rank the 2012 champs behind a team that has yet to show their potential on the court, but the Heat Big Three are now up against a Lakers Big Four. Do the math.
If the Heat are to keep up with the Lakers, they are going to need Chris Bosh to play a James Worthy-like third fiddle role.
They know what they're getting from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and the role players must perform their roles—but Bosh is the X-factor that will likely determine whether the Heat can repeat.
Projected Record: 63-19
1) Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have what could be—on paper—the best starting five ever.
Steve Nash and Dwight Howard alone are enough to carry a team, and the tandem could win 55 games without the help of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Throwing No. 24 and the Spaniard in there just makes it all the more likely that the Lakers celebrate the Larry O'Brien come this June. Provided this team gels, they are going to be nearly impossible to contend with.
How do you defend a Nash-Howard pick-and-roll with Kobe Bryant flanking the wing and Pau Gasol lurking around the hoop? The answer: you can't.
Projected Record: 65-17