Preseason NBA record projections are wonderful things. And they're even better once we have a few games of actual data to work with.
Now that the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers are undefeated, we can safely predict that they'll earn the top seeds in their respective conferences. And on the flip side, the 1-2 Miami Heat will clearly be heavy contenders for the services of Andrew Wiggins.
Think I'm kidding? Well, I suppose you'll have to read on to find out.
Over the next 30 slides, you'll see win-loss projections for each of the Association's 30 teams. I've based them heavily off the last edition, making slight tweaks to account for the first week of the regular season.
Is your team on the rise? Is it falling down in the rankings?
It's time to figure it out. You can also check the current standings here.
We'll start with the Eastern Conference and work our way from No. 15 to No. 1.
The Philadelphia 76ers are the league's most surprising team thus far. They beat the Miami Heat to open their season and then proved it wasn't a fluke (yet) by taking down the Washington Wizards thanks to a terrific second half.
Michael Carter-Williams had arguably the best debut of all time against Miami, and he settled in during the second half of his follow-up performance. John Wall didn't torch him as consistently, and some of his shots started to fall.
However, the rookie struggles will come, and this team won't continue to catch everyone by surprise. It's now apparent that Philly is too motivated to produce the worst winning percentage of all time, but I'm not ready to move them out of the Eastern Conference basement.
Not after just two games.
The Orlando Magic got a win by blowing out the New Orleans Hornets, but victorious outings are still going to be few and far between during the 2013-14 season.
There have been positive developments as Victor Oladipo continues to stuff the stat sheet—he had 10 points, six rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks against NOLA—but this young team doesn't have enough consistent presences. That'll be especially true if the Magic choose to move Jameer Nelson early in the season in order to commit to the tanking process.
Additionally, the defense has been problematic.
Even after holding the Pelicans to just 90 points, Orlando is allowing 102.3 points per contest. That number must go down, because it doesn't have enough consistent firepower to outgun opponents.
The Charlotte Bobcats aren't going to be terrible this year, but they're still a cut below most of the Eastern Conference. For them to reel off a close win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, it took a sensational performance from Kemba Walker.
And while the young floor general is capable of becoming an All-Star candidate, he's not going to score 23 points on 14 shots all that often. He's still not a highly efficient player, and poor shot selection will eventually rear its ugly head.
Plus, will we continue to see stellar outings from Bismack Biyombo? I have my doubts.
There's reason to be optimistic about the Bobcats following their 1-1 start to the season, but let's not assume that they're suddenly going to start rising up too far in the standings.
The Boston Celtics won't be able to create offense while Avery Bradley is running the show as a point guard. Watching him dribble is...interesting.
Through two games, he is 8-of-27 from the field and 0-of-6 from downtown. He hasn't earned a single trip to the free-throw line, has fouled out of both contests and is boasting a 6-to-8 assist-to-turnover ratio.
None of those stats are good.
But hey, at least Vitor Faverani has been superb, and Rajon Rondo will eventually return! There are some positives in Beantown, even if they aren't going to keep the team out of the lottery this season.
At some point, one has to wonder whether or not Danny Ainge will throw aside his pride and commit to tanking to give coach Brad Stevens more talent to work with in the future.
The Milwaukee Bucks are going to remain fairly competitive because of their bench. Wait, what?
I'm completely serious; the second unit has stood out early in the season.
Zaza Pachulia has been an absolute stud off the pine, following up his 13-point, 11-rebound debut against the New York Knicks with 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals in a victory over the Boston Celtics. Additionally, John Henson has looked good in limited action, and Nate Wolters could actually be a starting point guard down the line.
Scratch that. He will be a starter in the future.
Milwaukee will eventually realize how little short-term upside it has this season, though. The young guns are going to get run, and that won't result in the most promising record.
Jonas Valanciunas is bound for a breakout season, but he's not going to be a consistently dominant force for the Toronto Raptors. There are inevitably going to be games like the one against the Atlanta Hawks, when he played only 18 minutes and went for just four points and four rebounds.
As good as DeMar DeRozan has looked, it's tough for Toronto to remain competitive when Valanciunas and Rudy Gay aren't providing elite offensive output for Canada's NBA representative.
The Raptors may be playing 11 men on any given night, but it's not like this is a deep team. The point guard rotation isn't all that impressive, and Tyler Hansbrough is actually the best member of the second unit.
That should say a lot.
The Atlanta Hawks have to figure out a way to defend the paint.
After Monta Ellis slashed them to pieces in the season opener and the Toronto Raptors kept pace until the fourth quarter thanks to a great performance from DeMar DeRozan and some steady play from Amir Johnson, it's clear that size might end up being problematic for this team.
As good as Al Horford is, it's tough for him to perform as well as he should without a big power forward alongside him. In a lot of ways, it's similar to the problems that LaMarcus Aldridge experienced while playing next to J.J. Hickson for the Portland Trail Blazers last year.
There are positive signs for Atlanta, particularly as Jeff Teague excels running around in Mike Budenholzer's offense, but the Hawks haven't flown high enough for them to keep pace with the rest of the fringe playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.
Not only did the Detroit Pistons open the season with a nice win over the Washington Wizards—albeit a Wizards team that was easing in Marcin Gortat while Nene sat on the bench—but they also took the Memphis Grizzlies to overtime and were a missed Chauncey Billups free throw away from a potential victory.
These are both good signs.
Once Brandon Jennings is back, this offense will be even more effective, as there will be a perimeter scoring threat who can also distribute the ball. Although Jennings has developed a shot-happy reputation, he's shown great passing skills in the past and should be more willing to cede control of the rock now that he's surrounded by better offensive options.
Plus, floor spacing hasn't mattered all that much so far, although it would help if Josh Smith avoided any more 3-of-11 outings from downtown.
The Washington Wizards have struggled thus far, but they haven't had their full team together.
Marcin Gortat played sparingly in the first game, and while he was on the court for 37 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers, he was anything but comfortable with the new rotations. Plus, Nene hasn't played, which further depleted an already shallow frontcourt.
Once everyone is healthy in D.C., the Wizards will become a dangerous team. Bradley Beal has star potential, and John Wall is already a legitimate stud. If he continues to hit jumpers like he did in the first half against the Sixers, the Wizards could ascend even higher in these record projections.
For now, though, let's settle for one of the final playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been rather interesting through two games.
First, they took down the Brooklyn Nets to open the season and even got an unexpectedly early return from Andrew Bynum. But then they followed that up with an inexplicable performance against the Charlotte Bobcats, one marred by a poor offensive showing.
They may have lost to a bottom-feeder, but don't discount the Cavs' chances of being a fringe elite in the Eastern Conference. Kyrie Irving is a stud, and Tristan Thompson looks like he could join him in that category after averaging 19.5 points and 10 rebounds over the first two outings of the campaign.
At this point, should every struggling shooter just switch hands? Thompson is setting an interesting precedent.
The New York Knicks desperately need J.R. Smith back in the lineup. Without the dynamic shooting guard, the team has too much trouble creating offense.
Carmelo Anthony has far too much pressure on his shoulders, and he's yet to figure out how he wants to play. Is he going to be a distributing forward like he was against the Chicago Bulls? Is he going to play hero ball down the stretch, even when his team can't get him the rock before the shot clock is on its last legs?
He has to start clicking if the Knicks hope to stay in the race for the No. 1 seed. It's all about him in Madison Square Garden, and the best thing he can do would be to start asserting himself in the post with more frequency.
How do the expectations change when a team loses to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then beats the Miami Heat in convincing fashion, opening up a big second-half lead and staving off a furious fourth-quarter rally?
They shouldn't when we're talking about the Brooklyn Nets, who are still trying to figure out how all of their new pieces fit together.
This is a work in progress, but it's a promising one. It'll be nearly impossible for teams to withstand an offensive attack that features Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez.
That said, the health of D-Will is still a concern. After he played 22 minutes in the season opener and 27 against the Heat, you have to wonder if the talented point guard is suffering from an undisclosed malady.
Let's not assume that Derrick Rose is going to come back and immediately play like a top-tier point guard. I'm just as guilty as everyone who was throwing out his name in MVP discussions, but it's now clear that he needs time to work his way back into the swing of things.
Yes, he hit a game-winning floater against the New York Knicks. Yes, he's looked explosive.
But let's not let that sugarcoat the rest of his output.
Through two games, he is averaging 15.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game on 28.9 percent shooting. His player efficiency rating is a putrid 1.96.
Rose will get it going, but it'll take some time. And until he's playing like the MVP of old, Chicago's offense will struggle.
This Indiana Pacers defense is just as suffocating as ever.
Through two games, the mean machine in blue and yellow (I wish that rhymed better) has allowed opponents to score only 88.5 points per outing. Obviously, that's an insanely low number, and it doesn't appear to be even the least bit fluky.
Paul George has been as good as advertised, averaging a league-high 28.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game while minimizing his unforced turnovers and hitting shots effectively from all areas of the court. While he excels, so too will every aspect of Indiana's performance.
The Pacers are a tough matchup for any team, and that will be even truer when David West gets rolling.
Am I ready to drop the Miami Heat out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference because they looked unenthused against the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets?
Nope, not really.
Miami doesn't have a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference, but as long as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are on the roster, the Heat are still capable of reeling off a 20-game win streak at any point during the season.
Don't think otherwise just because they looked past the bottom-feeding Sixers and then failed to hang with a competitive Brooklyn squad.
If you do, I can guarantee that LeBron will make you regret it.
What's going on with the Phoenix Suns? Weren't they supposed to be trying to lose games so that they can have the best shot at Andrew Wiggins?
That's not what has happened through two games, as Phoenix has taken down the Portland Trail Blazers and—thanks a game-winning triple from Eric Bledsoe—the Utah Jazz. Goran Dragic was fantastic in the early proceedings before going down in the second contest with a facial contusion, but Bledsoe has been even better.
Asserting himself as a dynamic two-way presence, Bledsoe is well on his way to earning a big contract when he becomes a restricted free agent this offseason. Even after struggling in the first half against Utah, he rebounded and scored Phoenix's final 14 points in the one-possession victory.
This perfect record is in no way sustainable, and the Suns will eventually come crashing down. But at least there's been a bright start in the desert.
The Utah Jazz are going to be a lot better off when they have more options at point guard. Having John Lucas III as a starter and the combination of Jamaal Tinsley and an out-of-position Alec Burks coming off the bench just isn't going to work.
It's putting too much pressure on Gordon Hayward—who is now going to spend an entire season proving that he was worth extending—and the frontcourt. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors have looked terrific, but it'll be hard to sustain that success without someone spacing the court and displaying solid control over the ball.
The Jazz have enough young talent that breakouts are inevitable, but that doesn't mean that they'll avoid growing pains along the way.
Even though they're already two games behind the Suns, it's hard to believe that the wealth of potential won't push the Jazz out of the bottom spot in the Western Conference.
The Sacramento Kings have exceeded expectations thus far by beating the Denver Nuggets and then pushing the Los Angeles Clippers to the brink. But it'll be tough for them to maintain that type of success over the course of the season, especially because Denver just wasn't set up to beat them.
So far, the biggest bright spot—bigger than Isaiah Thomas in both a figurative and literal sense—has been the play of DeMarcus Cousins.
"Boogie" put up 30 points and 14 boards in the opener against the Nuggets, and he followed that up against Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan by recording 24 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks.
However, the best sign for the big man is that inefficiency is no longer in his vocabulary. While he could stand to cut back on the turnovers, he's shooting 22-of-47 from the field, which is a more respectable percentage than we've become accustomed to with Cousins.
The Los Angeles Lakers may have been able to catch the Los Angeles Clippers by surprise, but it's now clear that defense still isn't in this squad's vocabulary. Sure, they held the Tim Duncan-less San Antonio Spurs to just 91 points, but the opposite story was true against the Golden State Warriors.
Point guard play has been the biggest problem.
Steve Nash sat out against the Dubs and was ineffective the next night when the Spurs came to town. He just couldn't get his shot to fall, and there's no telling when things will turn around for the 39-year-old floor general.
If they ever will...
Speaking of "if they ever," we still have no clue when Kobe Bryant will be back in the lineup. He hasn't even started practicing with the team yet, and there's now a solid chance that the superstar shooting guard won't be suiting up for a game until at least December.
Without Kobe, the playoffs aren't even a pipe dream. They're something less than that.
Dropping the Denver Nuggets out of the playoffs isn't as crazy as it sounds.
They're in the pack of teams that includes the No. 11, 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6 finishers in the Western Conference, even if they're serving as the caboose. But still, there's only a seven-game gap between No. 11 and No. 6.
So far, Denver has shown no ability to hit three-pointers or protect the rim.
Only five teams have hit fewer triples thus far, and the 33.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc just isn't going to cut it. However, that's the less pressing concern, as Denver can survive solely off its slashing ability on most nights.
It can't survive if JaVale McGee doesn't blossom. Brian Shaw hasn't been able to keep him on the court for more than 12 minutes in either of the first two games, as ineffective play and foul trouble have each reared their ugly head.
Until McGee is a consistent—and positive—force in the lineup, this team doesn't have the established frontcourt necessary to emerge from the pack of fringe playoff teams in the West.
Getting off to an 0-2 start isn't a death knell for the New Orleans Pelicans' playoff hopes, but multiple fatal flaws have emerged early in the season.
Without Ryan Anderson, the Pelicans can't shoot the ball from the outside. Even with Anthony Morrow's four triples against the Orlando Magic, NOLA made only six three-point attempts and is hesitant to fire away from downtown. That has to change, as floor spacing is necessary for the slashing guards.
Additionally, Tyreke Evans hasn't clicked yet. While Anthony Davis has been a bona fide stud, the newly acquired guard doesn't look comfortable and is far too prone to passively waiting on the outside and hoping easy opportunities are just handed to him.
It only took two games, but I'm no longer as high on the Pelicans.
Even though I'm projecting that the Portland Trail Blazers finish with the same record as the New Orleans Pelicans, I'm giving them the tiebreaker and having them finish at No. 9 in the Western Conference thanks to their superior current record.
The most encouraging sign for Rip City has been the amount of run that the bench has gotten.
While Portland's starters—namely Damian Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews—are receiving plenty of minutes, the Blazers used eight players off the bench in a 15-point win over the Denver Nuggets. Sure, some of those players only got on for garbage time, but still.
It's a far cry from last year's second unit, which was horrific. Just imagine what will happen when C.J. McCollum is back in the rotation after recovering from his unfortunate broken foot, which he suffered at the beginning of the training-camp festivities.
So far, we've seen good Monta Ellis play against the Atlanta Hawks and bad Monta Ellis play against the Houston Rockets.
The former recorded 32 points on 17 shots, adding eight assists in the process. He constantly attacked the basket and actively looked to create shots for both himself and his teammates, making his gaudy turnover total manageable.
But then bad Ellis resurfaced and played like he was on the Milwaukee Bucks again. He shot 7-of-19 from the field, recorded one assist and turned the ball over five times, failing to get it going at any point during the game.
This is an accurate microcosm of Dallas' entire season. The Mavericks will go as Ellis goes, as offense is the only asset that the team has to work with.
Kevin Love is back.
After hitting a crunch-time three-pointer to complete an opening-night masterpiece and force overtime against the Orlando Magic, Love followed up with an encore against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He dropped 24 points on 12 shots and added another dozen rebounds to his already impressive total.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are who we thought they were.
As long as the team is healthy, it can hang with the elite squads in the Western Conference. But the question remains: Can it stay healthy?
Chase Budinger is already out, and the Wolves have conditioned their fanbase to expect the worst.
The Memphis Grizzlies were a missed Chauncey Billups free throw away from an 0-2 start, but they squeezed out an overtime victory against the Detroit Pistons to get a crooked number put up in the wins column.
Now, at what point is Marc Gasol going to step up his offensive game?
I harped on this throughout the 2012-13 campaign, and I'll continue to do so in 2013-14. The Spanish center must take more of the point-producing responsibilities into his own hands, as he's one of the best offensive hubs in basketball. Although he isn't going to challenge for a scoring title, he can make Memphis' overall scoring abilities rise up a few notches.
Through two games, he is averaging 14.5 points and 3.5 assists. That's not good enough, especially because the three-point shooting of this squad is eventually going to normalize.
Is anyone else doubtful that Tony Allen can keep hitting 100 percent of his triples?
This just in: Stephen Curry is really good at shooting a basketball.
Through two games, he's averaging 9.5 attempts from beyond the three-point arc and shooting a jaw-dropping 57.9 percent. He had the best shooting season from the perimeter ever in 2012-13, and he's poised to get even better now.
In fact, I want to focus on one play from the loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, because it shows how confident Curry is and how smart Mark Jackson has the Golden State Warriors playing. With Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut sprinting down the court and wide open for an alley-oop, Curry pulled up for a 27-footer and drilled it. He was that confident, and he knew that his team would be right there for the putback if he missed.
We're going to witness brilliant offensive basketball in the Bay Area throughout 2013-14.
Now about that defense...
The Houston Rockets have been dominant on the glass, and their defense is coming together sooner than anticipated. I suppose that's what happens when you boast two elite rim-protectors like Dwight Howard and Omer Asik on the roster.
But it's not just those areas of the game that are looking good for this Western Conference contender.
With Howard on the interior, James Harden controlling the ball and a host of players firing away from the perimeter, defenses can't figure out how to slow down the Houston offense. Plus, power forward hasn't been problematic yet, as D12 and Asik—much to my surprise—have worked well together.
The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers taught us to manage expectations about teams featuring new superstars, but every victory makes it more tempting to call Houston a potential 60-win team.
Losing Russell Westbrook will be both the best and worst thing that happens to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
While the dynamic point guard's absence is making it difficult for Kevin Durant to carry the team at the beginning of the season, it's giving Reggie Jackson valuable experience. Once Westbrook is back in the lineup, Jackson will be comfortable in a bigger role, which will allow him to thrive as a sixth man.
But will that help the Thunder earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference?
Nope, not this year.
Durant is being asked to do too much, and the pressure will make him cave a bit, depressing his trademark efficiency. He can't go for 40 points each and every night, as was made obvious by the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Corey Brewer and Derrick Williams shut him down, and they did so with the help of just about everyone on the court.
That's the defensive strategy that every team will continue to employ until Westbrook is back.
Doc Rivers has already had a visible impact on the Los Angeles Clippers.
After a disappointing opener, Blake Griffin has been sensational. He's looked engaged on offense rather than waiting on the weak side and hoping for an easy finish, and he's committed on the defensive end of the court, much to the chagrin of John Salmons. But he still hasn't been the most impressive player for LAC.
That would be Chris Paul.
CP3 is no longer a point guard; he's a point god. Through three games, he's averaging 27.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 12.0 assists and 3.7 steals per game while shooting 51.1 percent from the field and posting a league-high 37.56 PER.
Obviously he won't post a double-double in all 82 games, but he's not going to be far off. That's what happens when the league's best floor general gets a massive upgrade in the coaching ranks while he's still in his prime.
Even without Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs play fantastic defense.
First, they held the Memphis Grizzlies to 94 points (many of which came in garbage time) during the season opener. After that, Duncan sat, and the Spurs beat the Los Angeles Lakers in a low-scoring 91-85 affair.
Tiago Splitter has learned Gregg Popovich's defensive principles well, and Tony Parker continues to get better and better as he ages. Forget about the 31-year-old point guard experiencing a decline in performance this year.
I've considered the Spurs to be the best team in the Western Conference for a while now, but this is the first time I've had them in the No. 1 spot.
The difference? That would be Pop continuing to prove that he can steer his team to victory even when one of the most prominent players is taking a seat on the bench for all 48 minutes.