NBA Power Rankings: Which Teams Surprised Early On?

Ethan Norof@ethan_norofCorrespondent IDecember 28, 2011

NBA Power Rankings: Which Teams Surprised Early On?

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    The 2011-12 NBA season opened up on Christmas Day, and it didn't take very long for a number of teams to change positions in the power rankings from where they previously stood.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder look every bit like the real deal, while some familiar teams at the top of the conference standings are struggling mightily out of the gate.

    While there is admittedly only a small sample size available, it's very obvious that chemistry will play a major role in the successes and failures of teams this year.

    Is your favorite team trending in the right direction?

30. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Preseason Rank: 28

    Cleveland is going to be a tough team to watch at times this season as the Cavs let the youth develop, but this club might win a few more games than expected.

    The defense is really going to have to improve for the team to keep up with more skilled opposition, but Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving have both shown well in their initial debut.

29. Toronto Raptors

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    Preseason Rank: 30

    This is not the same Raptors team that we saw last season, and Dwane Casey has this group committed to improving at the defensive end of the floor.

    Although DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani can both score the rock, the Raptors are going to struggle against opposition with more impressive size beneath the basket, and the lack of quality depth will hurt Toronto.

28. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Preseason Rank: 29

    The Bobcats looked impressive in the team's first game against Milwaukee, but there's no question that more talented rosters could really be an issue for Charlotte as the season progresses.

    Boris Diaw is a versatile asset, but he's not going to be able to bang around with some of the bigger centers in the conference, and the Bobcats have one of the weakest big-man rotations in all of basketball.

27. Washington Wizards

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    Preseason Rank: 25

    The Wizards might be an exciting team to watch on offense this season, but this team has a ridiculous amount of question marks on the defensive side of the ball and need to quickly make improvements.

    Washington has to operate with better decision-making, and not every member of the offense can be looking to find his shot at all times.

    Above all, the Wizards need to work the rock into the low-post with their big men (Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee) more frequently.

26. New Jersey Nets

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    Preseason Rank: 26

    The injury to Brook Lopez is really going to put a dampener on the Nets' outlook, and the new additions to the roster look like they are still getting adjusted to New Jersey.

    A losing season is one thing for this team, but an inability to keep Deron Williams long-term is of even bigger concern, and the Nets have no chance of doing that if the club continues to show putrid offensive execution.

25. Utah Jazz

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    Preseason Rank: 21

    The Jazz look like a team that hasn't spent a lot of time playing together, and in an expedited campaign where chemistry will be key, that's really going to hold Utah back during the initial stages of the season.

    There's an intriguing mix of talent on the roster, but they have to learn how to play with one another, and Devin Harris has to become a better facilitator than what we've seen from him in the past.

24. Detroit Pistons

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    Preseason Rank: 22

    Although the Pistons changed coaches during the offseason, this group is largely the same group of players that combined to underwhelm the opposition over the last two seasons.

    Greg Monroe is a nice piece down low for the team and Brandon Knight is intriguing, but until guys like Ben Gordon and Tayshaun Prince step up to previous form, it's going to be another tough season for Joe Dumars and the rest of the front office.

23. New Orleans Hornets

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    Preseason Rank: 24

    Could the Hornets be a little better than we were all expecting?

    Possibly, but the Suns aren't exactly a daunting first task in terms of oppositional strength.

    It's very evident that Eric Gordon is going to be the epicenter of the attack, but the lack of scoring in the second unit and stalled offensive play could be an issue as the season drags onward.

22. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Preseason Rank: 27

    The arrivals of Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams added some intrigue to the roster, and pairing those rookies with Michael Beasley and Kevin Love could certainly make for some highlight plays.

    However, this team still has an underwhelming presence inside, and defense appears to be optional for some of these guys in the early portion of the campaign.

21. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Preseason Rank: 17

    The Bucks really disappointed some fans with the team's loss to Charlotte, but Milwaukee rebounded for a win over Minnesota and will likely continue to gel with each passing game.

    While the addition of Stephen Jackson is certainly huge, the health of Andrew Bogut is even more important to this team, as the successes and failures of the Bucks will hinge on him being on the court.

20. Golden State Warriors

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    Preseason Rank: 20

    The gimpy ankle of Stephen Curry could very well be an issue for the entire year, and the three-headed trio of Andris Biedrins, Kwame Brown and Kyrylo Fesenko is ridiculously poor.

    Without making any major alterations to the roster and failing to upgrade in the middle in the necessary manner, the ceiling of this team is capped in a Western Conference loaded with size.

19. Houston Rockets

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    Preseason Rank: 19

    The Rockets will need the backcourt combination of Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin to bring the offensive production on a nightly basis, but this team could be better than some are expecting.

    With the addition of Samuel Dalembert and more depth on the bench than several other teams around the league, Houston's biggest issue will be battling inconsistency.

18. Phoenix Suns

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    Preseason Rank: 18

    The Suns are obviously rebuilding, and the fact that Phoenix fails to admit that process is going to cripple this team's long-term outlook.

    Stuck in the middle with Steve Nash, Marcin Gortat and a bunch of other moving parts, the Suns simply don't have the talent to keep up with more talented teams when the second unit trots out onto the floor.

17. Sacramento Kings

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    Preseason Rank: 23

    The Kings will boast an electric offense on some nights, but Sacramento may very well struggle immensely to put points on the board in others.

    Not only does defense remain an area of concern on the perimeter, but lackluster performances from their guards is not something this team can afford to endure and still have a chance to win.

16. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Preseason Rank: 16

    The Sixers might not have changed much of the personnel on the roster, but the youth on the roster is going to dictate how Philadelphia fares this year.

    Jrue Holiday has to take another step forward, and Evan Turner must emerge as a key contributor for Philadelphia to ascend to its overall potential.

15. Dallas Mavericks

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    Preseason Rank: 6

    Although it's been a rather small sample size, the Mavericks look nothing like the team that won the 2011 NBA Finals despite everyone doubting the team along the way.

    Why? It's because they're not.

    There were so many new faces coming into the fold during the offseason that this group just hasn't had an opportunity to play together yet.

    Without a presence in the middle to replace Tyson Chandler, the Mavericks could really disappoint.

14. Orlando Magic

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    Preseason Rank: 14

    The volatility of this ranking will change if (and when) Dwight Howard is dealt, but so long as he remains on the roster, this is a middle-of-the-road team in the Eastern Conference.

    Orlando foolishly sunk more than $50 million into four seasons of Glen Davis and Jason Richardson, and it's tough to see how this team improved whatsoever from the previous campaign.

13. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Preseason Rank: 7

    There were some high hopes placed on the Grizzlies as a rising team that retained all of its key pieces, but it's clear that Memphis is still very much a work in progress.

    The return of a healthy Rudy Gay will benefit to space the floor, but there may not be enough shots to go around to satisfy everyone, and that will be an adjustment process for all involved.

12. Boston Celtics

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    Preseason Ranking: 10

    Is it too early to say the Celtics are over the hill? Yes.

    It's really important to remember that not only has Boston kept its first two games (against formidable opponents) close, but the team is playing without Paul Pierce.

    Despite the solid effort without Pierce, the lack of a presence at center is a serious issue, but nothing may be more pressing than the lack of a quality scoring option in the second unit.

11. Atlanta Hawks

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    Preseason Ranking: 11

    Atlanta got the season off to a bang with a really impressive road victory against the Nets, and the team added some impressive veterans to help build the depth off the bench.

    However, the core of talent remains the same, and until that group shows that they can get over the hump and not be stuck in the middle, it's difficult to buy into the team.

10. Denver Nuggets

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    Preseason Ranking: 15

    Denver is not a team that folks should be sleeping on any longer, and the job Masai Ujiri has done building an incredibly well-rounded team shouldn't be overlooked or understated.

    Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari are leading the way for the Nuggets, the addition of savvy veteran Andre Miller was excellent and the retention of Nene and Arron Afflalo will allow this team to continue its promising development.

9. Indiana Pacers

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    Preseason Ranking: 13

    The Pacers have been really hyped up by some, and it's easy to see why that was the case throughout the offseason.

    Paul George is ready for a full-fledged breakout campaign, the emergence of Roy Hibbert as a dominant center appears to be on the horizon and the addition of David West gives this team a legitimate power forward.

    With Tyler Hansbrough and George Hill both coming off the bench to anchor the second unit, this young team is going to be a lot of fun to watch all year.

8. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Preseason Ranking: 9

    Some were ready to call the Lakers over the hill despite the team playing just two games, but Los Angeles showed with the complete dominance over Utah that there is plenty to like about this group.

    It's imperative to note that the absence of Andrew Bynum (suspension) means that this team is really tough to judge until he returns, as Mike Brown's new offense flows primarily through his big men.

    The loss of Lamar Odom might sting, but the additions of Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy might pay off in greater ways than many could have imagined.

7. San Antonio Spurs

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    Preseason Ranking: 12

    After a surprising first-round exit to the Grizzlies in the 2011 postseason, many were (too) quick to write off San Antonio as a team that couldn't possibly compete going forward.

    It's amazing what type of motivation that can give to a veteran group.

    Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan continue to get it done, and the Spurs have added some intriguing youth around them to build a deeper roster.

6. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Preseason Ranking: 8

    Despite Portland still not drawing enough intention in the national spotlight, the Trail Blazers are forcing their way to the top of the standings and don't appear ready to slow down the charge at any point soon.

    Led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace, this team is simply too talented and too deep for many others to keep up with, and they seem to be clicking on all cylinders at both ends of the floor.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Preseason Ranking: 5

    Chris Paul single-handedly changes the game, and his impact on the Clippers has already been felt to extraordinary ends.

    He battled early foul trouble in his first regular season game with his new team, but as soon as he came back onto the court, the Clippers were able to expand their lead favorably and ferociously.

    With the athleticism of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan beneath the basket, "Lob City" has never seemed like a more appropriate nickname.

4. New York Knicks

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    Preseason Ranking: 4

    The approach under Mike D'Antoni this year has the Knicks going to Carmelo Anthony early and often, and that plan looked like it was working rather well in the first game against Boston.

    Although there is some concern at point guard considering New York doesn't have a true playmaker at the position, Toney Douglas is still learning how to play there and simultaneously provides a nice offensive spark.

    Tyson Chandler's presence down low has already been felt, and he's going to be key to the Knicks living up to the hype.

3. Chicago Bulls

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    Preseason Ranking: 2

    Chicago barely got by a Los Angeles team without Andrew Bynum, and then the Bulls really struggled against a Warriors team that doesn't have nearly the quality of talent that Chicago does.

    Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have to be better and more aggressive than what we've seen so far, and the Bulls need to use their competitive advantage in the size department to exploit the opponent.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Preseason Ranking: 3

    I picked the Thunder to represent the Western Conference in the Finals before the season began, and there is no reason to back off from that prediction right now.

    Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are obviously the guys to lead the way here, and although the Thunder have been impressive thus far, Serge Ibaka has to be better in order for OKC to click on all cylinders on the defensive side of the ball.

    There is a plethora of offensive production here, and this team has one of the most well-balanced rosters in the league.

1. Miami Heat

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    Preseason Ranking: 1

    Miami has only played in two games, but this Heat team looks a lot scarier than anything we saw during their initial season as the "Big Three."

    The combination of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade is just deadly for anyone to try to defend, and if Chris Bosh is going to post double-double stat lines with an ability to stroke it from beyond the arc, it's almost impossible to contain this group.

    Adding in the scintillating play of rookie Norris Cole at the point guard position, there is no reason to believe this team is falling off from the top spot at any point in the near future.