It’s just about that time my NBA crowd. Well, actually it’s well past ‘that’ time due to the foolishness experienced during this past off-season.
All of that is well behind us now, and since the lockout ended there have been numerous signings, trades, and a mess of pre-season games already played. All this can only mean that the NBA season is right around the corner, and it’s time to finally rank each team appropriately from top to bottom.
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Without further ado I present to you my official 2011-12 NBA Pre-Season Power Rankings (last season’s record in parentheses).
1. Miami Heat (58-24)
The talents in South Beach have now played one full, strong, and hate-filled season with each other. So now what?
Image source: Getty via Yahoo
Expect LeBron, Wade, and Bosh to each come back even better than last season (scary), expect Erik Spoelstra to have a better handle on his squad, and expect much better chemistry than we’ve seen.
The addition of Shane Battier should help an already great Miami defense, Eddy Curry is a low-risk, high reward signing, and with rookie Norris Cole now in the mix the Heat now have a solid rotation at the point guard spot.
All excuses are to be thrown out the window. Now it’s time to see what the Heat are truly capable of: an NBA championship.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)
The Thunder start and end with the production of Kevin Durant. So I can end my argument there, right? Not quite.
With the Thunder falling to the eventually-named NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks, it can be assumed that a lot has been learned. The Thunder didn’t acquire any big time players this off-season, but it’s clear that personnel isn’t needed on this roster.
The key factors needed on this team are maturity, chemistry, and execution. If the Thunder can keep the athleticism, college-type atmosphere, and add a drop of maturity and experience to the formula, there’s nothing stopping them from playing in June.
3. Chicago Bulls (62-20)
Last season was clearly a season to remember for the Chicago area. Derrick Rose won MVP, the play of Noah and Deng rose to previously unseen levels, head coach Tom Thibodeau gave us a reason to believe he is a defensive guru, and the Bulls finished with the league’s best record.
While all that is fine and dandy, the Bulls couldn’t make it to the Finals, courtesy of the Miami Heat.
With D.Rose and company now knowing what they are capable of, what can they do to push even further?
The acquisition of vet Rip Hamilton was a great signing, as the lack of a 2-guard showed in the ECF against Miami. While Rip is no Wade or LeBron, he provides the Bulls with athleticism, a great shooter, and the experience needed deep in the post-season. Whether or not it will be enough is still to be seen.
4. Dallas Mavericks (57-25)
The defending NBA Champions. It has a nice zing to it, especially to Mark Cuban, so expect him to try and keep it that way.
While Dallas loses some major points for not being able to keep Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, and even JJ Barea, they get a ton of points for the following: Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Delonte West. Not only did Dallas get exactly what they needed, long-athletic wing players, but they also stole a key ingredient to the Lakers’ success.
Dirk is still going to be an all-time great, Rick Carlisle will continue to be a great schemer, and I expect the Mavs to cruise into the playoffs yet again, but will the age of their roster begin to show? Maybe, maybe not.
I was certainly wrong last year.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (32-50)
This might be the first time in history that the Clippers will be ahead of the Lakers in most power rankings across the land. Check the history books.
The LA Clips went from the Blake Griffin show last season, to now possibly being able to compete for an NBA title…possibly.
While the acquisition of Chris Paul is the sole reason for vaulting the Clippers into another realm, there is more to the story here. They also brought in vets Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups, two great scoring threats with veteran experience who both seem to have the knack of hitting keys shots in big situations. There’s also the ever-improving DeAndre Jordan, whom I believe will be one of the better big men out West.
But at the end of the day, the Clippers will go as far as CP3 & Blake Griffin take them. Will this season just be full of SportsCenter Top 10 plays, or do the Clippers actually have the will to fight off history, their across-town rival Lakers, and every test that comes their way? I sure as hell can’t wait to find out.
Image credit: Harry How/Getty Images via Yahoo
6. Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)
One of the most confusing and disorientated off-season’s for a single team that I’ve seen in a while. They were supposedly going to end up with Dwight Howard, then Chris Paul, and they ended up with a Odom-less team.
Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum are still one of the better trios in the NBA in my opinion, but the question will always remain: can they stay healthy? With Kobe’s continuous history of injuries and Bynum’s weak knees, it is evident that the injury bug has a thing for the yellow and purple.
Then there is the issue of how thin this roster has gotten over the years, and it showed when they were swept by the Mavericks last season. Let’s not also forget that this will be the first season for ex-Cavalier head coach Mike Brown, who has a very hard test for his first year.
Again, talent is not an issue for the Lakers, but the real issues will be avoiding injury, getting accustomed to a new-look system, and being able to block out all of he recent turmoil out in Lakerland. If they can do all of this then there is still a chance for a title, but if not…forget about it.
7. New York Knicks (42-40)
In Tyson Chandler the Knicks landed themselves the second best acquisition of the off-season, right behind the Clips landing CP3.
First it was Amar’e, then it was Carmelo, and now with Chandler I really do believe the Knicks have landed the last big piece they needed to go from playoff contender to title contender. Tyson brings the Knicks a much needed defensive presence in the middle that can do all the dirty work, such as blocking a shot, rebounding, or getting the valuable tip-ins. The most beautiful part of the acquisition is that Chandler doesn’t need many touches, and he most likely won’t get many with Melo and Amar’e on the floor.
Image credit: Yahoo
The Knicks now have one of if not the best front-court in the league, and they are now deemed ‘title contenders’ by head coach Mike D’Antoni. A stretch? Maybe, maybe not.
8. San Antonio Spurs (61-21)
The Spurs almost always seem to find a way to ignore the media, ignore the power rankings, and surprise us all with a 50-60+ win season, so at this point I’ve realized I can’t doubt them anymore. But what I can do is point out their pros and their cons.
Greg Pop is definitely the cream of the crop when it comes NBA coaches, and he seems to always get the best out of whoever he has on the court (see Matt Bonner, DeJaun Blair etc). The loss of George Hill will hurt the team, but with young pieces like Splitter, Blair, and draft pick Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs have a healthy mix of age and youth. Never mind the fact that the Tim Duncan has stated he’s in the ‘best shape of his life’, Manu is coming off of a restful off-season, and Tony Parker should bring what he usually brings.
Like always, the Spurs will be threatening.
9. Boston Celtics (56-26)
Once again we will begin to hear that the Celtics have lost a step, that Pierce, Allen and KG are no longer in their prime, and that age will continue to hurt this team. But the funny thing is every time that we dismiss this team as a title contender, they come back and do the same thing: prove to us that they are an elite team in the league.
So once again I think Boston has a shot at a title.
The loss of Jeff Green for the season is bigger than most think. With a team full of aging players, Boston will need all of the youth it can obtain.
The acquisition of Brandon Bass gives the Celtics a stronger inside presence than the departed Glen Davis did, and Rajon Rondo will continue to be the Rondo we know and love.
As for the ‘Big Three,’ this is quite frankly their final chance at winning an NBA title, and could the thought of that spark Beantown to find the ‘Fountain Of Youth?’ Or will this be the end of a great Celtics team? Time will tell.
10. Denver Nuggets (50-32)
Losing Carmelo for the Nuggets is now going to pay off.
With the herd of players acquired in the multi-team deal which sent Carmelo to New York, the Denver Nuggets were looking at a very bright future, whether it was with the numerous trading pieces they had or the potential to build a very deep team. It got even better once the Nuggets were able to re-sign Nene and Aaron Afflalo, and now the Nuggets might be able to be what they were after the Carmelo trade: the NBA’s most efficient defensive team.
With George Karl’s masterful ability at putting together great rotations, and the unselfish play of this Denver team, consider them my sleeper. Watch out if you’re out West.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (46-36)
The Grizzlies were by far the surprise team in the playoffs last season, getting into the second round after beating the Spurs without their all-star Rudy Gay. Now with a healthy Rudy Gay, a returning Marc Gasol, and the continued success of Zach Randolph, Memphis is looking better than ever.
While the loss of Shane Battier and the season-long injury of Darrel Arthur will hurt the team’s depth, the Grizz will definitely be in the playoffs and have that same ‘upset’ potential as they did last season.
12. Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
Atlanta has never been able to get out of the ‘middle of the road’ team, and that shouldn’t change this season.
While word has it that Josh Smith was working on his game amazingly in the off-season, the issue will always be personnel. Joe Johnson and Al Horford are both great players, but other than the three mentioned Atlanta doesn’t have much.
Unless the Hawks can somehow resurrect the TMac from his Orlando days, and bring Marvin Williams into his own, don’t expect Atlanta to make it past the second round of the playoffs.
13. Indiana Pacers (37-45)
The Pacers haven’t been anything more than a lottery team for nearly a decade, and only as of late are they beginning to make moves that are starting to solidify them as playoff contenders.
Once Indiana stole David West from the hands of Danny Ainge, it became evident that Larry Bird is moving this team up. Surrounding Danny Granger with players who have great upside like Roy Hibbert, George Hill, and Darren Collison, plus vets like David West, should put the Pacers in a position to do great things in a few years.
As for now, enjoy them for what they are.
14. Orlando Magic (52-30)
Let’s be honest here; the only reason I don’t have Orlando somewhere within the 20’s is because of the fact that they haven’t lost Dwight Howard. Yet.
This off-season has been hell for the Lakers as well as the Orlando Magic. The rumors have come from all sides pulling Dwight to the Nets, Lakers, Mavericks or wherever else he was supposed to end up. Now GM Otis Smith is in a not-so-good position, with a roster full of vets, an upset star, a confused head coach, and the title favorite right down the road in South Beach.
I might even go as far to say that they don’t make the playoffs, but that’s only because I don’t expect Dwight to be there come playoff time.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (41-41)
The Sixers, much like Indiana, are another team that has found themselves with a lot of upside. Now it’s time for Philly’s front-office to do something. It’s either the Sixers stay in the middle of the pack, or somewhere along the lines a move is made to move Philly up the ladder.
With players like Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holiday and Iggy, Philly has that ‘sleeper’ factor. But unfortunately, that’s all there is to them right now.
16. Portland Trailblazers (48-34)
In one of the sadder stories I believe the NBA has ever experienced, Brandon Roy decided to retire due to his numerous fights with knee injuries. And that right there pretty much sums up how these past few years for Portland has been, whether it be Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, or their numerous role players being missed for significant portions of the year.
But what’s done is done, and Nate McMillan actually still has a solid team to work with, and a great chance at making the post-season.
Recently signed Jamal Crawford should give Portland a great scoring spark, Kurt Thomas should give them a strong inside presence.
17. Houston Rockets (43-39)
Houston was a team in this off-season that was very much in the middle of trade discussions, usually as a third team. They were also serious bidders for Tyson Chandler, Nene, and Marc Gasol. In the end, nothing was accomplished and life goes on.
Newly appointed head coach Kevin McHale still has a team with a lot of potential, especially down on the block with guys like Patrick Patterson, Jordan Hill, and even Hasheem Thabeet. But the clear leader on this team is Chuck Hayes, and depending on how good they’ll all able to blend will decide if they can make a run at a playoff spot.
18. New Orleans Hornets (46-36)
The Hornets lost two of their best players in the past 5 years in Chris Paul and David West, so it’s clearly time to rebuild.
Thanks to the amazing GM skills of David Stern, the Hornets were actually able to land some really nice pieces. Acquiring Eric Gordon gives the Hornets a great sniper from the wing, Chris Kaman gives them a strong interior vet, and some very valuable draft picks which will most likely result in a couple lottery picks.
On to the future NOLA!
19. Phoenix Suns (40-42)
Over the past few seasons Phoenix has gone from a strong playoff contender to the old folks ‘chill’ team.
All jokes aside, the two key players on this roster are still Steve Nash and Grant Hill. Both seem to be, and play, at least 5 years younger than what they really are.
But let’s be honest, it’s going to take more than what the Suns have to be able to come close to a title. There is a chance Nash and Co. don’t even make the post-season.
20. Milwaukee Bucks (35-47)
The Bucks might not be in title contention this year, but they are a very pesky team. By this I mean they have a team that has the ability to beat any team in the NBA when caught off guard.
With a big man like Bogut, and a point guard like Brandon Jennings, the Bucks have something to build on. While the loss of Corey Maggette will hurt, the signing of Stephen Jackson might be enough to bring Milwaukee back into the post-season.
I sure as hell want to see those ‘Fear The Deer’ posters again!
21. Sacramento Kings (24-58)
With the fans now being able to keep their team in Sac-Town, they actually have something great to look forward to: the future.
The Kings probably won’t make the post-season this year, but they do have one of the more exciting young players in the league in Tyreke Evans. Alongside DeMarcus Cousins, these two should eventually become All-Stars, right? And with newly acquired JJ Hickson, the Kings just might be watchable this season.
22. Golden State Warriors (36-46)
The Warriors are yet another team that attempted to do some big things this off-season. They couldn’t acquire Chris Paul like they had hoped, they couldn’t land Nene or Chandler, and they ended up paying Kwame Brown about $7 million this season.
While Mark Jackson seems like a good fit, and Monta Ellis & Stephen Curry are both great offensive threats, this team has no defense whatsoever. Look for the Warriors to try and make a bold move before the deadline.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-65)
The TWolves probably will have one of the more exciting rosters in two years if they can keep Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love, Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley all together. But for now it’s all about chemistry, building a foundation, and learning the ropes with one another.
Don’t expect the playoffs within the next couple of years, but enjoy watching this team grow into something solid.
Should be fun for Minny fans.
24. New Jersey Nets (24-58)
Another big loser this off-season is the Nets.
While they failed at landing Dwight Howard, they still have Deron Williams and the entice of the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
I’m going to be honest here, I’m probably not going to be paying much attention until Dwight Howard ends up in Brooklyn.
Yup, you heard right.
25. Detroit Pistons (30-52)
Detroit has finally seemed to begin its build towards the future by drafting exciting guard Brandon Knight. This is another team that should be interesting to watch grow, as young guys like Austin Daye, Greg Monroe, and Jonas Jerebko hoop alongside one another.
Give it time Deeeeetroit.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63)
What!? What is this!? The Cavs are no longer at the bottom of the food chain Devon?
Why would they be? Kyrie Irving will eventually be a great point guard for Cleveland, and they still have solid pieces like Varejao, Omri Casspi, and a few nice draft picks along the way.
Hopefully by drafting Kyrie, he can bring this franchise destroyed by a former No.23 back to the playoffs within a couple of years.
27. Washington Wizards (23-59)
With John Wall now having a year’s worth of NBA experience under his belt, it should help this Wizards team come even closer to a playoff spot (even though I don’t think they make it).
Washington should have some fun watching these kids hoop. With newly drafted Jan Vesely, Andray Blatche, and Javal McGee down low, expect some SportsCenter clips the next morning.
28. Utah Jazz (39-43)
The Jazz find themselves in a very awkward position; do we blow the team up, or try and progress?
Al Jefferson is still pretty young with a nice upside, but he’s also a very attractive trade piece. How about guys like Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap? That’s a lot of big men, so I expect Utah to make a move or two this year to form their future.
29. Charlotte Bobcats (34-48)
I really, really like the choice of Jordan drafting Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo, two freakishly athletic guys, who should be very easy and flexible to build around.
Other than that, it’s going to be interesting watching MJ piece this roster together in the coming years.
30. Toronto Raptors (22-60)
Newly appointed head coach Dwyane Casey is going to have the chance of turning the numerous big-men the Raptors have into something, guys like Ed Davis, Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johsnon..
Who am I kidding? The Raptors are going to be a tough team to watch this season.
At least Canada has Steve Nash, right?
Thanks for reading folks!