NBA Power Rankings: How Each Team Stacks Up Heading into Regular Season
While the long regular season can feature plenty of surprises, we already know a lot about the NBA before any team plays a single competitive game.
For the most part, the teams that enter the league with high expectations usually live up to those in the regular season, with the recent exception of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. On the other hand, it is rare to see a squad make the playoffs after predictions called it a last-place team.
This shows how important it is to build a squad that can perform well on a nightly basis. The organizations at the top clearly did a better job of that, and it will be seen in the standings throughout the year.
Here are my power rankings for each team heading into the regular season.
1. Miami Heat
Whether you love them or hate them, the Heat are still the best team in the NBA. LeBron James somehow continues to improve and now has the confidence of winning two straight NBA titles.
The Eastern Conference is as tough as ever, but no one should be expecting a letdown from Miami this year.
2. Chicago Bulls
Expectations were incredibly low for the Bulls heading into last season without Derrick Rose. However, the rest of the roster proved that it was more than just a one-man team by reaching the second round of the playoffs and giving the Heat all they could handle.
With Derrick Rose returning and apparently jumping five inches higher, fans should expect the same caliber player that won MVP before suffering the injury.
He will join an elite front line of Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, each of whom has more confidence after last season. Jimmy Butler also became a breakout star of the playoffs and should be expected to have a big season.
The Bulls had the best record in the NBA in the 2011-12 season and should be even better this year. This gives them as good of a chance as anyone of knocking off the two-time defending champions.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Sure, plenty of teams in the West made upgrades while the Spurs remained generally the same. However, the defending NBA runners-up continue to prove that age is not a factor.
Until San Antonio proves otherwise, it should remain near the top of the power rankings.
Which team has the best chance of beating the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference?
4. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers opened up a lot of eyes last season with their playoff run, showing that Paul George and company were serious contenders.
This team could be even better with a healthy Danny Granger all season, as long as he does not mess with the great chemistry that was on display last year.
5. Brooklyn Nets
No one will deny the talent that is on the roster. Not only does the team have an All-Star at every position, but there are also more than a couple of future Hall of Famers in the lineup.
Still, new head coach Jason Kidd will have to prove that he can keep everyone happy, something that will not necessarily be an easy task.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
Re-signing Chris Paul might have been the biggest offseason move in the entire NBA. The elite point guard controls the offense and makes everyone around him better.
With continued improvement from the young frontcourt and a commitment to defense under new coach Doc Rivers, this should be one of the better teams in the Western Conference.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
When Russell Westbrook went down in the playoffs, the Thunder proved that they need more options on the offensive end. However, they will have even fewer this year without Kevin Martin.
Obviously, Westbrook and Kevin Durant will win a lot of regular-season games, but the tandem will have to prove they can get it done in the playoffs without much help.
8. Houston Rockets
The pieces are certainly there to make a run in the Western Conference.
Houston was one of the most exciting teams in basketball last season with a high-powered offense led by James Harden. Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons helped out to make sure this was a lineup that was tough to defend.
By adding Dwight Howard, the Rockets now have balance inside as well as an incredible defensive presence that will be felt immediately. This was a major problem last year while allowing the third-most points in basketball.
However, Howard might also slow down the offense, which could ruin its effectiveness. This remains something to keep an eye on in the early going of the season.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
Defense still wins games in the NBA, and the Grizzlies are as good on that end of the court as anyone in the league, especially inside with Marc Gasol patrolling the middle.
The problem this year will be the same as it was last year, though: Who will take the shot when the team needs it most?
10. New York Knicks
The Knicks ended last season as the No. 2 seed in the East, but the rest of the conference got better. Although the team adds intrigue with Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani, neither of them will likely add any wins.
11. Golden State Warriors
Golden State added Andre Iguodala this offseason, but he might not have been needed. Harrison Barnes showcased plenty of ability in his rookie year, while Klay Thompson has proven to be an elite scorer.
Still, it is now obvious that the team has plenty of depth alongside Stephen Curry. The young squad now has to display more consistency in order to make that jump toward contention.
12. Denver Nuggets
This season could legitimately hinge on the development of JaVale McGee, which is never a good thing. Management has faith that he could be an All-Star, but everyone who watches SportsCenter knows he makes as many bad plays as good ones.
The good news is that Ty Lawson is coming off his best season and is certain to only get better in the fast-paced attack.
13. Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant likely will not play to start the season, but he does not appear far away from returning. According to Matt Moore of CBS Sports, the veteran said he could play immediately if it was a playoff game.
This means that while the Lakers could struggle early on, Bryant will return to the lineup and put his team on his back like usual.
Of course, it is also important to remember that this team is not devoid of talent. All-Stars Steve Nash and Pau Gasol should have bounce-back years, and both will be better with another year in Mike D'Antoni's system.
Finally, lowered expectations should take the pressure off of the team as a whole, which will allow the players to relax and play great basketball once again.
14. Washington Wizards
Of the struggling teams from last year, the Wizards have the best chance of making a big jump this season. Last year, they were 5-28 before John Wall returned to the lineup and were 24-25 after.
First-round pick Otto Porter Jr. completes the puzzle with his all-around ability, and his addition should help get Washington back into the playoffs.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
Injuries have been a huge problem for this team over the past few seasons, but the Timberwolves finally appear ready to go with both Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio in the lineup.
If Kevin Martin and others can hit shots from the outside, this team could certainly contend for the playoffs.
16. Dallas Mavericks
Dallas could not get Chris Paul and ended up with Jose Calderon. When it could not get Dwight Howard, it settled for Samuel Dalembert. Even with the addition of Monta Ellis, this was not an inspiring offseason for the Mavericks.
There is enough talent to prevent a free fall, but this roster should not expect a big improvement upon last year's 41-41 finish.
17. Cleveland Cavaliers
Although Cleveland might not be a playoff team just yet, it is not far away. More importantly, the team is building a core that will be around for a long time.
Kyrie Irving continues to improve as he shows he is one of the best point guards in the NBA. He will get plenty of help from young studs in Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett.
The biggest question mark is Andrew Bynum, who is immensely talented but missed all of last season with injuries. If he is healthy, the squad could be in great shape on both ends of the court.
Unfortunately if he remains out, the lineup could end up being too small to contend with the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
18. Portland Trail Blazers
No matter what happens with the frontcourt, the dream for NBA fans will be to watch Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on the floor at the same time. While it would be an undersized tandem, the pair would be almost impossible to stop due to their incredible quickness.
Defense could be a serious problem, though, that will hold back any hopes of having a big season.
19. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks are hoping that the loss of Josh Smith will be similar to when Rudy Gay was traded from the Grizzlies—they lost a high-scoring but inefficient player and got better as a team.
Unfortunately, there simply will not be enough scoring on this squad to compete with the best in the league. Paul Millsap can help replace the forward a little bit, but it will not be enough.
20. Detroit Pistons
This is certainly one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA. The additions of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings gives the Pistons talent at every spot, but they simply do not appear to be good fits with each other.
Everyone on the roster, with the exception of center Greg Monroe, looks to shoot first, which could create some chemistry problems on the floor. There will be some big performances, but it will take some time to create believers.
21. New Orleans Pelicans
This is another team that could be very good this season if things go right, although that is far from a guarantee. Eric Gordon must stay healthy, Anthony Davis must make a big jump in his second year and Tyreke Evans must remember how to pass the ball.
These are big question marks, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that things turn out alright in New Orleans.
22. Sacramento Kings
Ben McLemore did not get a lot of respect on draft day and fell to No. 7 overall, but the Kings got a great player who could end up scoring 20 points per game in the league.
By pairing him with an elite center in DeMarcus Cousins and a point guard in Greivis Vasquez that can get him the ball, Sacramento could open some eyes this year.
23. Utah Jazz
The Jazz have started a mild rebuilding process, although many of the pieces are already in place. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will finally get a chance to shine in the frontcourt, and Trey Burke will try to carry his college success into the NBA despite the fact he will miss eight to 12 weeks with a broken finger, per Ben Golliver of SI.com
Although it is unlikely they see success this year, the turnaround will not be long.
24. Boston Celtics
Rajon Rondo went from being just another player surrounding a "Big Three" to an elite point guard on a great team to now the only star on an uninspiring roster.
That being said, there is still enough talent on the roster to prevent Boston from completely tanking. Avery Bradley and Jeff Green were both impressive down the stretch last year, and MarShon Brooks has simply been looking for an opportunity to shine.
This team will not be competitive, but this is hardly the worst team in the league as many expect.
25. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee made the playoffs last season, so the obvious strategy was to blow up the team and start over (wait, that doesn't make sense, does it?).
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis were not perfect, but they provided a lot of scoring to a squad that will desperately miss them. Brandon Knight is a solid addition, along with a few other veteran free agents, but this will be a steep drop in Milwaukee.
26. Toronto Raptors
Between Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors should be able to put on an exciting dunking display in games this year. Unfortunately, the front office did little to improve a team that went 34-48 last season.
This makes it hard to expect much more success this year or even in the near future.
27. Orlando Magic
Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris looked good last season, and Victor Oladipo has the potential to be an extremely valuable guard at this level. A few more additions and this squad could be able to win a lot of games.
However, the Magic will still be shorthanded when it comes to talent. Their fans will just have to be patient until the reinforcements come in future drafts.
28. Phoenix Suns
Eric Bledsoe will provide a big boost to this team with his playmaking ability. But this team is still incredibly weak up front, which will hurt on both ends of the court.
Which team is the worst in the NBA?
No. 5 pick Alex Len has a lot of upside, but it will likely take some time to make an impact in the NBA.
29. Charlotte Bobcats
Grabbing Cody Zeller with the fourth overall pick of the draft remains a questionable decision, and it is one that could hurt the Bobcats for a long time. However, Al Jefferson has the potential to carry teams on his own, and he might have to for much of the season this year.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers were already in a rebuilding process and decided to start a new one. They traded away their best player (Jrue Holiday) and will go into the year hoping for big things from Michael Carter-Williams and eventually Nerlens Noel.
In reality, they will be hoping for a very high lottery pick next summer.
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