NBA Power Rankings: Separating Contenders from Pretenders in Young Season

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2012

There are certain things we know in the NBA. The Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are very good. The Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls will be just fine once Dirk Nowitzki and Derrick Rose return from injures.

And the Los Angeles Lakers will be an elite team now that Mike Brown is out.

But there's just as much we don't know. How will the Sixers look when Andrew Bynum gets healthy? Are the New York Knicks really as good as they've started? Who are the Houston Rockets? 

And most importantly, which teams are actually contenders and which ones are just pretending?

Let's find out.


1. New York Knicks (4-0)

What are we to think of this Knicks team? We know they're good—they have Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, after all—but are they legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference this year?

After four games, you have to take them seriously. All they've done is beat the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers (twice) and Dallas Mavericks. For the moment, they've earned "contender" status. We'll see if they maintain it.


2. Miami Heat (5-1)

The champs have picked up where they left off. After six games, they lead the NBA in scoring (107.5 points per game).


3. San Antonio Spurs (6-1)

On one hand, I don't think they can beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a seven-game series. On the other hand, they already beat them this year, and I don't think there's another team in the West that could stop the Spurs. 

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-2)

Yeah, they'll miss James Harden, especially early in the season. But not too much.


5. Memphis Grizzlies (4-1)

We know the Grizzlies are a playoff team, and a really tough out if Zach Randolph can stay healthy. But can they take the next step and become an elite squad? That seems less likely.


6. Los Angeles Clippers (4-2)

Last year, they were Lob City. This year, they have wins over the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks. Methinks they aren't satisfied with simply being one of the most entertaining teams to watch this year.


7. Chicago Bulls (4-2)

Derrick Rose is a long way away, but it has to be a bit disconcerting for the rest of the league to see the Bulls playing solid basketball without him.


8. Philadelphia 76ers (4-2)

I may be biased as a Philadelphia-based writer, but I think the Sixers are one of the NBA's most intriguing teams this season. 

They're 4-2 and have won three straight, and they've done so without Andrew Bynum. Which reminds me: How will the Sixers play when Bynum is introduced to the starting lineup? And will he re-sign with the Sixers?

He should—Philly has a nice complement of players to surround him with in Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, Dorell Wright, Spencer Hawes and Nick Young. The Sixers play solid defense, run well and, for the first time in a long time, can hit the outside shot.

Under Doug Collins, you can see the makings of a contender if Bynum buys into the system and gels with his teammates. Stay tuned.


9. Los Angeles Lakers (2-4)

Despite the slow start, the Lakers get bumped up these rankings solely because Mike Brown has been fired. Harsh, I know, but true.


10. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-2)

Minny is 4-2 despite no Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love. When this team gets healthy, they'll make some noise.


11. Dallas Mavericks (4-3)

It's hard to love the Mavericks after they dropped an overtime game to the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, but the team looks to have a solid supporting cast in place once Dirk Nowitzki returns from injury.


12. Denver Nuggets (4-3)

They sure are fun to watch. Now they just need to prove they can be more than that in the tough Western Conference.


13. Boston Celtics (3-3)

They are what we thought they were: old, savvy and pretty good but no longer great. A 3-3 to start the season seems about right.


14. Atlanta Hawks (2-3)

This team has plenty of scoring options, but after tradig Joe Johnson, they don't have that go-to guy. They'll still manage to be the seventh or eighth team in the Eastern Conference playoffs, however.


15. Houston Rockets (3-3)

The Rockets are another very intriguing team. On one hand, you look at a young core headlined by Jeremy Lin and James Harden and think the Rockets could be very dangerous if things click.

On the other hand, you look at a young core headlined by Lin and Harden in starring roles and wonder if this team will ever come together, be competitive against elite teams and be anything more than fun to watch this year.

At best, I like the Rockets as a possible No. 8 seed in the West, but they'll take it I'm sure. If Harden continues to shine as the leading man and Lin continues to grow as a point guard, Houston will do some nice things this year.


16. Milwaukee Bucks (3-2)

So far, there have been enough shots for Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. We'll see if that holds up.

17. Brooklyn Nets (2-2)

The Nets have the look of a team that will probably make the playoffs this season but doesn't really deserve to be in. That's the East for you.


18. New Orleans Hornets (3-2)

If only Eric Gordon could stay healthy, this young squad could make serious strides this year. Anthony Davis is the real deal.


19. Indiana Pacers (3-4)

They'll improve, and should be a playoff team once again. Getting Danny Granger back in a few months will help.


20. Phoenix Suns (3-4)

A lot of new faces means an adjustment period in Phoenix—and more than likely, another season spent watching the playoffs from home.


21. Utah Jazz (3-4)

When Mo Williams is your leading scorer, things aren't as they should be.


22. Golden State Warriors (3-4)

There is a nice core in place here. If Harrison Barnes develops this season, the Warriors should be a pretty dangerous team. Well, if they ever play defense, that is.


23. Portland Trail Blazers (2-4)

Damian Lillard is legit. With Lillard running the point and LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum starting strong, the Trail Blazers could be a team that finds itself much higher in the rankings than this soon enough. Well, if they ever play defense, that is.


24. Cleveland Cavaliers (2-4)

Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, the most intriguing young backcourt in the NBA. 


25. Sacramento Kings (2-4)

It's been a poor start for the Kings, but this team has some players who can ball. The evolution of DeMarcus Cousins continues.


26. Orlando Magic (2-3)

Be honest—who on this team would you pay money to see?


27. Charlotte Bobcats (2-3)

Michael Kidd-Gilcrist is the real deal. Kemba Walker can certainly score. That's all I've got.


28. Toronto Raptors (1-5)

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani are going to need some help this year.


29. Washington Wizards (0-5)

Eventually, John Wall and Bradley Beal will form a truly dynamic backcourt. Eventually.


30. Detroit Pistons (0-7)

The Tigers lose in the World Series, the Lions have underachieved and the Red Wings probably won't play at all this season. You've gotta feel bad for Motown.


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