Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Every NBA Team's Regular Season
Before the 2013-14 NBA regular season tips off, we take a look at each team's ceiling and basement, projecting the range of where they could potentially finish.
Some squads' best-case and worst-case scenarios are separated by only a couple places in the standings, while others could fluctuate between a half-dozen slots.
It all depends on how volatile the key players are, how deep the club is and how new the coaching staff is.
Read on to find out how hot (or not) each team could be!
The Atlanta Hawks' success depends largely on how they run the offense through Jeff Teague and Al Horford. If new head coach Mike Budenholzer can get Horford going early in the season, and have the new pieces play off him, Atlanta can avoid the messy middle of the Eastern Conference.
Two critical multipurpose players that can hold things together are former Utah Jazz standouts Paul Millsap and DeMarre Carroll. Their court awareness could tremendously expedite the team's jelling process.
Best Case: 45-37, sixth in East
With loads of roster turnover and the absence of Lou Williams to start the season, the Hawks' rotation looks very different in 2013-14.
Horford, Teague and Millsap can carry most of the burden, but Budenholzer might have trouble finding someone else to deliver substantially.
Without another consistent option until Williams comes back, Atlanta will struggle to post 97-98 points per contest.
Worst Case: 35-47, ninth in East
Boston Celtics fans hope Brad Stevens was the right choice to lead the rebuilding process. The young coach has a chance to impress us by working wonders with the rubble from the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade.
Avery Bradley might outperform expectations at point guard, and Rajon Rondo could be back early in the regular season. That will make life a whole lot easier for Jeff Green and Kelly Olynyk to produce offense, and it would make the team somewhat competitive.
Best Case: 34-48, 10th in East
The blockbuster trade left Boston with spare parts. Doc Rivers' departure left the franchise with a rookie head coach. Rondo's ACL recovery left the club without a starting-caliber point guard.
If the C's don't work as a unit, things could get ugly.
Stevens' acclimation to the NBA and the roster's lack of facilitators and true centers may result in a 13th- or 14th-place finish.
Worst Case: 23-59, 14th in East
What do you get when you put six current and former All-Stars and five potential Hall of Famers on the same team?
A great chance to break 60 wins.
Jason Kidd's successful collaboration with the leaders of this squad will help maximize Brooklyn's talent. Good ball movement and timely defensive rotations will make things tricky for everyone the Nets encounter.
Best Case: 60-22, second in East
The only two things that would prevent Brooklyn from reaching its potential is the roster's age and Jason Kidd's inexperience.
If the veteran newcomers suffer a sharp decline in usage, and Deron Williams continues to be banged up and hampered with ankle issues, the Nets will lose their chance to take over New York City.
Worst Case: 48-34, fifth in East
An influx of talent in the post and a slightly more experienced backcourt will give the Charlotte Bobcats a chance to reach 30 wins in 2013-14. The arrival of Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller finally gives the club an interior presence on offense.
In addition, Jeff Taylor could enjoy a breakout season, which might be the X-factor the Cats need to establish a more competitive identity.
Best Case: 31-51, 11th in East
Inadequate depth and shoddy defense will be the limiting factors for Steve Clifford's bunch, as they'll have trouble staying with opponents for 48 minutes.
On the other end of the floor, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are key. In the event that Walker doesn't progress and Kidd-Gilchrist doesn't evolve, the team's overall production will suffer.
Worst Case: 23-59, 15th in East
Assuming Derrick Rose has a smooth return to the rigors of the NBA, the Chicago Bulls' potential is lofty.
Their final record depends on the production from emerging star Jimmy Butler and fading star Carlos Boozer. These two will aim to combine for 30-35 points to ease Rose's burden.
A potent blend of youth, experience and defense will give the Miami Heat all they can handle in the Eastern Conference standings.
Best Case: 64-18, first in East
Defensively, there really isn't a worst-case scenario for Tom Thibodeau's pupils, because they always compete for 48 minutes.
However, the offense could suffer if the team relies too much on D-Rose and it takes a while for the returnee to get in a groove.
Age in certain spots (Boozer, Nazr Mohammed, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng) may also slow the group down.
Worst Case: 48-34, fifth in East
It's simple: The Cleveland Cavaliers' playoff seed depends on the health of their two biggest names: Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum.
It looks like there will be enough supporting firepower from the likes of Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Anthony Bennett. Not to mention a steady bench point guard in Jarrett Jack.
If Irving and Bynum can play most of the season (that's a big "if"), and the defense can hold opponents below 100, the offense will take care of the rest and earn Mike Brown more wins than losses.
Best Case: 44-38, sixth in East
Although a winning record is attainable, a losing record is equally likely.
A tardy return for Andrew Bynum and intermittent injuries to Kyrie Irving would severely hurt the Cavs' playoff chances.
Are there exciting youngsters who could step up in the case of injury? Sure, but "exciting" doesn't guarantee good shot selection, disciplined defense and wins.
Worst Case: 35-47, 10th in East
Despite whiffing on each major free agent in 2012 and 2013, the Dallas Mavericks have an intriguing cast of veterans alongside a couple key youngsters.
The offense has plenty of capable shooters, a couple key facilitators and a breakout candidate in Brandan Wright. As long as Samuel Dalembert and Bernard James rebound, the team will be in position for Dirk Nowitzki to win games.
Best Case: 42-40, ninth in East
Notice how I didn't mention the defense.
If that end of the court gets ugly, all bets are off as the Mavs fail to improve on their perimeter rotations and paint protection.
In 2012-13, Dallas was out of position so much that it committed 20.7 fouls per contest and allowed 19.1 free-throw attempts per game.
Worst Case: 32-52, 12th in East
They won't have the look of a No. 3 seed to start the 2013-14 regular season, but Brian Shaw's Denver Nuggets will feature a dangerous, athletic attack.
The wins will start accumulating when Danilo Gallinari returns from his ACL rehab and the group gets comfortable in Shaw's system.
Best Case: 49-33, sixth in West
George Karl's absence might sting more than Denver would like to admit, and Andre Iguodala's departure will compromise the perimeter defense.
The trials of a new coach and new approach may result in a a slow start, compounded by Gallinari's late arrival.
Worst Case: 39-43, ninth in West
A frontcourt of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith should monopolize the boards and protect the rim, so the Detroit Pistons will rarely give opponents second chances. At the point, Brandon Jennings may thrive in a new environment with a better stable of big men.
Detroit's bench isn't eye-popping, but it could be sneaky deep. The work of Luigi Datome, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jonas Jerebko will determine how flexible Mo Cheeks can be.
Best Case: 42-40, seventh in East
Chemistry issues with the new faces could slow down Detroit's attack, especially if Josh Smith and Greg Monroe play an inefficient brand of basketball. They combined for 10 turnovers in Detroit's preseason win over the Brooklyn Nets.
The Pistons need more than a little boost to achieve a playoff-caliber offense, so an uneven shot distribution could land them right where they were in 2012-13.
Worst Case: 34-48, 10th in East
Golden State Warriors
Mark Jackson hopes the Golden State Warriors can pick up where they left off in the 2013 playoffs once the regular season tips off.
The Dubs are the kind of team that will learn from the positive and the negative of last spring's run. They'll continue to bombard foes from distance, but they won't forget to compete in the paint.
A Splash Brothers party and the emergence of Harrison Barnes could earn Golden State some home-court comforts early in the 2014 playoffs.
Best Case: 56-26, third in West
If Andre Iguodala's arrival doesn't ignite a collective improvement defensively, the Dubs will have trouble moving up the standings.
In fact, another sixth-place finish (or worse) is possible if Golden State keeps surrendering 100 points per game.
Worst Case: 47-35, sixth in West
With Dwight Howard protecting the paint and delivering low-post offense, the Houston Rockets are no longer simply a run-and-gun squad.
The pairing of Howard with James Harden could immediately change the landscape of the Western Conference, which tells you how high I think this team's ceiling is. Secondary scorers should feast off the confusion that Howard and Harden will create.
Best Case: 59-23, second in West
Howard isn't a lock to dominate, especially if his shoulder and back injuries come back to nag him.
But that's not the only thing that could go wrong in Houston. The Rockets might have trouble figuring out optimal rotations for the power forward and point guard positions, and fluctuating levels of production from both positions won't make the task easy. As a result, they may struggle to defend as a unit.
Worst Case: 47-35, sixth in West
With such a complete roster and experienced mix of role players, the Indiana Pacers' ceiling is scary for the entire East, including the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls.
A bounce-back season from Roy Hibbert could set the tone for an impressive campaign, especially if the backcourt and bench can knock down open looks.
Danny Granger seems to be picking up steam in the preseason (15 points, nine rebounds in Oct. 13 loss to Houston Rockets). His pairing with George makes the top seed attainable.
Best Case: 64-18, first in East
Frank Vogel's crew is too balanced to tumble far down the standings, but they could struggle a bit when it comes to playmaking and overall athleticism.
Quicker teams could take advantage of Indy by outrunning their bigs, and the Pacers could get stuck behind Chicago and Brooklyn.
Worst Case: 50-32, fourth in East
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers' ceiling is as high as anyone's in 2013-14, as an already talented bunch became stronger on the bench and in the locker room.
Doc Rivers will force this group to defend at a higher level, so the biggest variables will probably be individual offensive production. The development of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin in the post could make this team much more balanced than it was in 2012-13, and it would further empower the perimeter exploits of Jamal Crawford, Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick.
Best Case: 65-17, first in West
It's difficult to imagine a scenario where the Clippers would perform the same or worse than they did last year, but they could end up posting a poorer record.
The only way for that to happen is if Chris Paul slows down considerably, DeAndre Jordan doesn't improve and the new additions fail to find their niche.
Worst Case: 53-29, fourth in West
Los Angeles Lakers
Dwight Howard might be gone, but the Los Angeles Lakers' cast of role players has noticeably improved. The addition of Chris Kaman, Nick Young and Xavier Henry is a welcomed boost, as is the potential of Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre.
That's all nice, but a 40-win campaign is only possible with a bounce-back year from Steve Nash and a legendary Achilles return from Kobe Bryant.
Best Case: 40-42, 10th in West
Lakers fans, skip to the next slide.
For the rest of you willing to think dreadful thoughts, Kobe Bryant might not be himself again. If he's significantly slower and less explosive, Los Angeles won't have the juice to win more than 32-34 games.
Worst Case: 31-51, 12th in West
The Memphis Grizzlies were one of the strongest low-block teams in the league in 2012-13. Now their big-man arsenal is deep. Adding Kosta Koufos and promoting Ed Davis from benchwarmer status should keep adversaries at bay for the entire season.
In the backcourt, Memphis isn't quite as menacing, but Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless cover a lot of ground and have the talent to compete with any lineup in the West.
Best Case: 54-28, fifth in West
Even though the Grizzlies are a fundamental club with one of the best defenses in basketball, their dearth of firepower may hurt them in the standings.
They'll simply get leap-frogged by teams with more sustainable scoring.
Worst Case: 43-39 seventh in West
With LeBron James cranking out MVP numbers alongside a healthy Dwyane Wade and retooled supporting cast, the Miami Heat could flirt with 70 wins.
The night-to-night effectiveness of the bench will ultimately dictate how far this team goes. If players like Rashard Lewis, Michael Beasley and Greg Oden exceed expectations and give Erik Spoelstra around 20 minutes each, Miami could go on some dominant stretches.
Best Case: 69-13, first in East
Achieving a three-peat is a demanding task, and sometimes the regular season is more difficult than ever. The Heat could get tripped up by Dwyane Wade's knee problems, and his prolonged absence would almost certainly lead to a drop in the standings
Miami might also struggle if the supplementary scorers fail to consistently produce, especially in the post.
Worst Case: 53-29, third in East
Many expect the Milwaukee Bucks to fall short of their 2012-13 placement, but this new-look roster could actually meet or exceed last year's results.
The development of Larry Sanders as a low-post threat will give coach Larry Drew more options on a possession-by-possession basis.
A breakthrough effort from Brandon Knight would be equally uplifting, as he seeks to fill the void left by Brandon Jennings and give the franchise an infusion of firepower and facilitating.
Best Case: 38-44, eighth in East
Mayo and Knight have the talent to be exciting combo guards, but they don't have the passing skills to be next-level distributors. On any given night, you don't know if they'll combine for six assists or 14.
Without a true franchise star or a playmaking swingman, Milwaukee will get stuck in a sinkhole of mediocrity.
Worst Case: 30-52, 11th in East
Rick Adelman's dream scenario for the Minnesota Timberwolves is one where Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio stay healthy and share the court for an extended stretch.
Beyond that blessing, Minnesota's optimal season must include a steady diet of Nikola Pekovic, significant progression from Derrick Williams and Alexey Shved and reliable all-around play from Corey Brewer.
Best Case: 46-36, seventh in West
It would be demoralizing if injuries struck the 'Wolves again, and it would kill their playoff chances.
Minnesota fans would also be disheartened if Williams and Shabazz Muhammad both turned out to be one-dimensional busts. Their failures would damage the club this season and in 2014-15.
Worst Case: 34-48, 11th in West
New Orleans Pelicans
Although the backcourt isn't in top form (or even healthy form) yet, New Orleans Pelicans fans are enjoying the prospect of Anthony Davis leading this team in its quest for a postseason berth.
Davis is torching all challengers this preseason, taking what the defense gives him and converting an assortment of mid-range jumpers, slashes and putbacks. When star guards Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans catch up to Davis and Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans will be a dreaded two-way opponent.
Best Case: 45-37, eighth in West
New Orleans isn't going to cruise to a winning season just because it's enjoying a successful preseason.
Eric Gordon already has an injury-riddled past, and if he encounters another issue or two in 2013-14, it will severely limit the Pelicans' potential and ensure that they don't compete for a playoff spot. As promising as Austin Rivers is, they need Gordon's offensive versatility.
Worst Case: 33-49, 11th in West
New York Knicks
Mike Woodson will work to get Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani a healthy share of shot attempts, and if they achieve an optimal balance, the New York Knicks' offense will be dangerous. During the preseason, the two proved in spurts that they can operate effectively on the floor together.
Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert are both critical cogs: STAT is the Knicks' best low-post option offensively, and Shumpert is the squad's most versatile player. Big years from both will result in a No. 4 seed or better.
Best Case: 55-27, second in East
We don't expect the Knicks to shoot as poorly as they did in the 2013 playoffs, but an overdependence on the jump shot would send New York to a low postseason seed.
The Bargnani-Melo tandem could cause more role confusion than Woodson hoped, and Amar'e Stoudemire may fail to rekindle any semblance of his prime.
A rocky return from J.R. Smith would be the icing on the cake of a mediocre season.
Worst Case: 44-38, fifth in East
Oklahoma City Thunder
In the back of everyone's mind is the timing and nature of Russell Westbrook's return.
Reggie Jackson will do an admirable job filling in, and if Westbrook can come back strong by early December, the Oklahoma City Thunder can chase the No. 1 seed.
The role players need to step up in a big way, especially in the paint on offense, in order to give Kevin Durant and Westbrook a chance to win the conference.
Best Case: 60-22, first in West
You guessed it—the Westbrook injury and the absence of Kevin Martin is too much for even Durant to overcome.
OKC's secondary scorers like Serge Ibaka and Jeremy Lamb are solid, but you can't always count on them to generate offense. That means Durant and Reggie Jackson must do the lion's share of creating, and that imbalance may cost the Thunder a half-dozen games.
Worst Case: 52-30, fourth in West
Victor Oladipo may prove to be an NBA-ready star, scoring 15-plus and dishing five-plus assists while changing the defensive culture for the Orlando Magic.
Meanwhile, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and Moe Harkless are chomping at the bit and poised for breakout seasons.
All the low-post personnel have to do is hold down the fort, and Orlando could compete for the No. 10 seed.
Best Case: 34-48, 10th in East
The growing pains could linger for Jacque Vaughn's young crew, as the promising cast of prospects struggles without a star.
Victor Oladipo might face some struggles in his quest to be an efficient table-setter, and the inexperience of the rest of the squad may hinder his progress.
Furthermore, a lack of defensive improvement would make it tough for the Magic to evade the basement.
Worst Case: 24-58, 14th in East
This could be the year Evan Turner puts it all together. Even if he doesn't live up to his expectations as a No. 2 overall pick, he could excel as a highly versatile leader for the Philadelphia 76ers. He had a couple impressive preseason performances, and Brett Brown hopes Turner can translate that to the regular season.
Combine his skills with overachieving guards Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten, and the Sixers could catch a couple teams flat-footed.
Best Case: 24-58, 11th in East
Given the current personnel, the Sixers' worst-case scenario is pretty ugly.
A new regime and a shortage of star power could be the perfect recipe for tanking in Philly. Their growing pains might hurt even more than anticipated, and a lack of low-post production could make Brown's group quite feeble.
If things really fall apart, they might fail to reach a .200 winning percentage.
Worst Case: 13-69, 15th in East
No matter how you spin it, the Phoenix Suns will be in the bottom third of the Western Conference.
However, they can turn some heads and steal a few wins by outrunning opponents and attacking the hoop. If Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic can create enough offense, the Suns will win some shootouts.
Best Case: 28-54, 14th in West
It might take Jeff Hornacek two months to figure out the optimal starting lineup and rotation for this club, which means it's not a truly dangerous group.
The bench lacks bite and balance, and rookies Alex Len and Archie Goodwin could both turn out to be busts.
Worst Case: 16-66, 15th in West
Portland Trail Blazers
Once C.J. McCollum's foot heals and he rejoins the Portland Trail Blazers, the team could make a run at a winning record.
Terry Stotts hopes the growth of Meyers Leonard, Thomas Robinson and Joel Freeland can help beef up the bench, while Mo Wiliiams gives depth to the guard corps. Those ancillary components will be driven as far as super sophomore Damian Lillard can take them.
Best Case: 44-38, seventh in West
Eight players are currently listed with some type of notable injury, so the Blazers' season might get off to a rocky start. From McCollum's foot to Williams' ankle to Nicolas Batum's concussion, Portland's training staff is in high gear.
Apart from health concerns, the Blazers will face an uphill battle at the center position, as the responsibilities fall to the mediocre Robin Lopez and inexperienced Leonard.
Worst Case: 37-45, 11h in West
With a surplus of players at his disposal, Mike Malone's roster might end up being more of a blessing than a burden. The Sacramento Kings have multiple options at each position, and if they can quickly learn to work together, they can avoid another sub-30-win season.
Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas may not be a playoff-worthy point guard duo, but they can definitely engineer 30 or more wins if they get enough help from DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore.
Best Case: 31-51, 12th in West
Sacremento's worst-case regular season is closely linked to its inability to defend.
The Kings will not be a a defensive juggernaut overnight, even with the addition of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Sactown's roster is simply not built to hold teams to 98 points per night, and that will be reflected in the win-loss columns.
Worst Case: 22-60, 15th in West
San Antonio Spurs
It's not outlandish to think the San Antonio Spurs can defy Father Time for one more year and carve out another championship-level product.
Gregg Popovich's squad still possesses the tools necessary to lead the NBA in assists, and it also has the balance and chemistry required for disciplined defense.
Best Case: 59-23, second in West
We don't want to overstate the effect of the gut-wrenching 2013 title loss, but that finals appearance might be the last high point of the San Antonio Spurs as we know them.
The hangover, real or imagined, could harm the club's chances of eclipsing 50 wins. The Spurs can't expect to go 35-6 at home again, so their overall record might be significantly more humble than in years past.
Worst Case: 50-32, fifth in West
A monster year from Jonas Valanciunas and a deep swingman rotation make the Toronto Raptors candidates to jump into the playoff discussion.
Even if they miss out on the No. 8 seed, they won't be pushovers when Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry attack the bucket. If the core contributors improve in close-game situations, Toronto can approach the 40-win mark.
Best Case: 39-43, eighth in East
The Raptors' rotation is far from set, and if Dwane Casey can't find substantial peripheral performers, there will be too much pressure on the starters to carry the team all year. Leaning on Gay for most of the season won't cut it.
Although Toronto has some exciting pieces to showcase, it may still be more than an arm's length from postseason consideration.
Worst Case: 29-53, 11th in East
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are both capable of dominating the paint, so the Utah Jazz shouldn't have a problem competing in half-court scenarios on both ends of the floor.
Fourth-year swingman Gordon Hayward will also be a bright spot, as his inside-outside effectiveness will put the team in good position to win some close contests. He's aided in the backcourt by Alec Burks, who still shows promise.
Despite Trey Burke's injury, the Jazz could finish closer to 40 wins than 30.
Best Case: 36-46, 11th in West
We know Utah won't light up the scoreboard, especially with Trey Burke starting the season nursing a fractured finger.
But what if the Jazz flounder offensively, performing worse than expected in a rebuilding year? Tyrone Corbin may not be able to count on anyone but Favors, Kanter and Hayward, in which case the team would post 95-97 points per game.
Worst Case: 28-54, 13th in West
The Washington Wizards hope they were right to give John Wall a max contract extension. He's already shown stretches of brilliance early in his career, but he could reach a whole new level.
When you pair an All-Star-caliber quarterback in Wall with the Wizards' playoff-caliber defense, this group could sneak into the postseason.
Best Case: 43-39, seventh in East
A handful of concurrent setbacks could keep Washington in losing mode: age and injuries catching up to the big men, a sophomore slump from Bradley Beal and erratic play from Wall.
Even if two out of those three occur, the Wizards will be in trouble.
Worst Case: 35-47, ninth in East