NBA Power Rankings: Bold Preseason Projections for Every Team

Ethan Norof@ethan_norofCorrespondent IDecember 24, 2011

NBA Power Rankings: Bold Preseason Projections for Every Team

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    The first edition of NBA power rankings for the 2011-12 season always inspires controversy, and fans always come ready to debate where their team should be seeded.

    Although some might not like the outlook of their favorite team, it's best to be realistic when setting expectations for the season as it's better to be pleasantly surprised than massively disappointed.

    Is there any team that can stop the Heat from making the finals? How wide open is the wild wild west?

    Let's find out.

30. Toronto Raptors

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    The Raptors didn't add much in free agency, were inactive on the trade market, and the fifth overall pick, Jonas Valanciunas, won't be joining the roster until the 2012-13 season.

    DeMar DeRozan is an exciting young talent, and Andrea Bargnani has the capability to score, but this team just has too many obvious needs on its roster to expect any sort of improvement.

29. Charlotte Bobcats

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    The Bobcats might be an exciting team to watch some nights, but this is one of the least talented rosters overall in the entire league.

    Kemba Walker will bring excitement to a franchise that sorely needs it, but the lack of depth in the second unit will really hurt this team in the long run.

28. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    The Cavs might have another long season ahead of the team, and the sooner the team turns over and lets the young guys run, the better.

    There is no realistic expectation for Cleveland to compete this season, and it's in the best interest of the team to let Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson tap into their potential with a lot of minutes.

27. New Jersey Nets

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    The Nets suffered a big blow to the season when Brook Lopez incurred a stress fracture in his foot which will sideline him indefinitely, and it changed the entire outlook for the team.

    Despite Deron Williams still running the point, the Nets are going to need to scrape together an identity quickly with a ton of moving parts, and it could take a while to achieve that.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    The Timberwolves probably won't be as bad as many are projecting, but defense remains a serious question mark for this team going forward.

    Derrick Williams looks like the real deal, Ricky Rubio appears intriguing and Kevin Love is an absolute machine, but the combination of Darko Milicic and Nikola Pekovic in the middle leaves a lot to be inspired.

25. Washington Wizards

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    The Wizards, like some other young teams in the NBA, could certainly be fun to watch under the direction of John Wall, but there are a lot of questions as to how this group will gel together on the defensive end.

    JaVale McGee is a force around the rim, but Washington has to display an increased commitment to defensive intensity in order to shut down the more formidable opponents around the league.

24. New Orleans Hornets

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    The Hornets did well in the Chris Paul trade, and there's no question that Eric Gordon and Chris Kaman will help this team on a nightly basis.

    However, the depth of the roster isn't exactly appealing, and the Hornets might have a tough time slowing down the opposition when the starting five is off the floor.

23. Sacramento Kings

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    Will the Kings be fun to watch? Absolutely.

    Does that translate to a winning style of basketball? Absolutely not.

    There's no question that Sacramento made some very intriguing additions in the offseason, and while a healthy Tyreke Evans is definitely a major boost, perimeter defense is going to be an issue throughout the campaign.

22. Detroit Pistons

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    The Pistons have a much better outlook under new head coach Lawrence Frank, but to say he has his work cut out for him might be an understatement.

    Greg Monroe is a good building block to work around, but the Pistons have an uncertain rotation and a lot to prove after a miserable 2010-11 season.

21. Utah Jazz

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    Utah is making some nice moves for the future of the team, but those might not pay off as soon as this season.

    Although the future is looking good for this Jazz team, the roster is riddled with youth, and this team really needs to build its chemistry together before reaching its ultimate potential.

20. Golden State Warriors

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    The Warriors didn't change anything to the core talent of this group, so it's hard to imagine a way of this team realistically improving.

    Despite the addition of Kwame Brown, the Warriors aren't exactly the most defensively-apt team beneath the basket, and that could really hurt them in a Western Conference that has a lot of size.

19. Houston Rockets

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    The Rockets will rely on a lot of offensive production from Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin this season, so it's imperative that both members of the starting backcourt stays healthy.

    Houston's addition of Samuel Dalembert to the middle is a solid one, but the ability of the second unit to contribute regularly will dictate how this team fares in the long run.

18. Phoenix Suns

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    Phoenix is trying to retool for its future while staying competitive now, and that often leads to a team being "stuck in the middle" when it comes to the landscape of the league.

    Steve Nash and Marcin Gortat will be solid in the pick-and-roll game, but if the rest of the team can't knock down shots regularly from the perimeter, it's going to be tough for the Suns to fire on all cylinders.

17. Milwaukee Bucks

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    The Bucks will be an interesting team now that Stephen Jackson has joined the roster and Andrew Bogut is healthy, but it's hard to know exactly what to expect from this group.

    Brandon Jennings and Jackson are both woefully inefficient from the floor, and that could mean a lot of ill-advised shots being chucked up at the rim early in the season.

16. Philadelphia 76ers

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    The Sixers are definitely improving, but the combination of Spencer Hawes and rookie Nikola Vucevic at center is not going to cut it against some of the more physical teams.

    Philadelphia needs a big improvement from Evan Turner and another step forward from Jrue Holiday to take the next step, but there are several stairs to climb for Doug Collins and Co.

15. Denver Nuggets

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    Masai Ujiri has done a really nice job of building the depth on the Denver roster, and the Nuggets could be a lot better than some are predicting in the first full season without Carmelo Anthony.

    After re-signing Arron Afflalo and Nene and trading for veteran Andre Miller in the offseason, the Nuggets have a very interesting mix of talent that could give opposing teams trouble.

14. Orlando Magic

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    This projection is rather volatile for the Magic as it obviously hinges on Dwight Howard's presence, but this is another team that's sort of stuck in the middle.

    It's tough to project the Magic as anything but a playoff team, as there are just too many uncertainties around Howard to assume they can keep it going if he leaves.

13. Indiana Pacers

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    The Pacers are going to surprise a lot of people this season, as the team boasts impressive depth and has definitely improved the starting five.

    There is a lot to like about the prospects for Indiana this season, but it's not wise to use potential to extrapolate wins until the players prove it on the court.

12. San Antonio Spurs

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    The Spurs are a veteran group that could struggle in an expedited season, but there's still talent on this roster that shouldn't be overlooked.

    Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili led the Spurs to a one seed in the playoffs just last year, so it would be a mistake to write this team off as washed up.

11. Atlanta Hawks

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    Some are down on the Hawks after Joe Johnson had a tough go of it last season, but a rebound campaign should be in store now that he's over his injuries.

    Atlanta still doesn't have a true center (Al Horford is a natural power forward), and this is basically the same group that hasn't been able to get over the hump in previous seasons.

    Swapping Tracy McGrady for Jamal Crawford won't change that.

10. Boston Celtics

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    The Celtics might be a veteran group, but it's awfully hard to find a team with four All-Star players in the starting lineup.

    The issue with Boston, like many other teams, is its depth in the second unit, but Danny Ainge did a nice job of attempting to build the bench despite losing Jeff Green for the entire season.

9. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Things haven't gone well for the Lakers early, but this team still has Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum as the key cogs going forward.

    Health is going to be a major factor for Los Angeles, and if one of those three is forced to miss major time, it's going to cause a serious issue for the outlook of this season.

8. Portland Trail Blazers

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    It's baffling as to why so many people are quick to sleep on the Blazers, and acting GM Chad Buchanan should be commended for the team he's pieced together.

    Despite losing both Greg Oden and Brandon Roy before training camp was even through, Portland was the only team to give Dallas a legitimate run in the playoffs last year, and this team has improved since that time.

7. Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Grizzlies re-signed Marc Gasol, are getting a healthy Rudy Gay back into the fold, and absolutely stole Josh Selby during the second round of the draft.

    Memphis is young, deep and loaded with talent, and there is no reason to think this club can't find a lot of success this season and beyond.

6. Dallas Mavericks

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    The defending champions might have lost Tyson Chandler, but to be the best, you've got to beat the best, and Dallas still reigns supreme entering the year.

    Despite the loss of Chandler, the Mavericks added some solid pieces to the roster and improved the second unit, so it will be interesting to see how the club performs with a new look.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Does this seem like a lofty ranking for the Clippers? Probably, but if everyone stays healthy, this is going to be one insanely dangerous team going forward.

    Blake Griffin and Chris Paul already look like more than a formidable duo, and Vinny Del Negro has never had this type of talent at his disposal during his time as a head coach.

4. New York Knicks

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    The Knicks have a lot of expectations being placed upon them after Tyson Chandler was added to man the paint, and rightfully so as New York has the most impressive front line in all of basketball.

    It's going to be very difficult for any team to contend with the talent the Knicks have beneath the basket, and if Baron Davis can get healthy and out on the court in the foreseeable future, it could be a really promising season for the team.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    The Thunder look like the real deal, and in a season where team chemistry is key, Oklahoma City is one of few teams that didn't make a lot of changes.

    Of course, this group didn't have to as there is already an abundance to like as the roster is currently constructed, and Kevin Durant is an early favorite to take home MVP honors.

2. Chicago Bulls

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    How good can Chicago be? Downright deadly if everyone stays healthy, and this team can even knock off Miami in a playoff series if everything aligns properly.

    The health of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer will be integral in any chances the Bulls have in making a legitimate push for the championship, so Tom Thibodeau will have to keep a careful eye on his oft-injured big men and the minutes they play.

1. Miami Heat

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    The Big Three got to the final round in their first season together, and there is no reason to think they're incapable of doing it again this time around.

    Unlike last season, Miami has a healthy Udonis Haslem, James Jones is coming back on the cheap, Shane Battier was added and even Mike Miller should contribute as well.

    That means that this team is already a lot deeper than many assume.


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