#1 – Miami Heat
The team to beat in the East
#2 – Boston Celtics
An imposing and physically powerful front-line of Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal. Plus Glen Davis as a deep reserve. A difficult group of big men to effectively matchup against.
Then add in their star wings in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and you have a very impressive lineup and that’s before we even get to the team’s best player, Rajon Rondo, or the Celtics talented reserves in the backcourt with Delonte West and Nate Robinson. Plus serviceable backup wings in Marquis Daniels and Von Wafer.
Boston is the only team capable of beating a healthy and in form Miami Heat team in the playoffs.
#3 – Orlando Magic
The Magic have a lot of strength in depth but outside of Dwight Howard they lack top tier talent. Not a serious title threat.
#4 – Chicago Bulls
A formidable foursome of Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng but their supporting cast seems to need a little more talent to push them over the top.
#5 – Atlanta Hawks
A good team but one that has little hope of a playoff run.
All eyes are on their young forwards and whether or not they are able to make a big leap.
#6 – Milwaukee Bucks
A solid playoff team built around a tough defense and the interior talents of Andrew Bogut.
How much Brandon Jennings develops will decide how difficult a matchup the Bucks will be in the first round of the playoffs.
#7 – Charlotte Bobcats
A top defensive team but a very weak offensive team.
A solid playoff caliber squad and an irritating opponent to play against come playoff time but not much more than that.
#8 – New York Knicks
An interesting group of athletic and capable players throughout their rotation.
Guards – Raymond Felton, Toney Douglas
Wings – Danilo Gallinari, Kelenna Azubuike, Wilson Chandler
Big Men – Amare Stoudemire, Anthony Randolph, Timofey Mosgov, Ronny Turiaf
That Knicks are going to have a far more balanced lineup next season.
How many minutes Anthony Randolph gets will be a large factor on how successful New York is in both the short term and more importantly in the long term. In the long term, he is the most talented player on the roster and any failure to develop him would be a crushing blow to the New York Knicks.
#9 – Detroit Pistons
The Pistons starting lineup is decent enough with Stuckey, Rip, Tayshaun, Monroe and Big Ben but their large number of flawed reserve players (W.Bynum, B.Gordon, Daye, Jerebko, Villanueva, Maxiell) and the roles being asked of them will hurt Detroit considerably next season.
The Pistons have an outside chance a .500 season if a lot things fall right for them but unfortunately that is quite unlikely … more likely they’ll stutter and be down in the 35 win range (if healthy).
#10 – Indiana Pacers
A very capable scorer in Danny Granger and two good young players in Darren Collison and Paul George plus some decent young players in Hibbert, Hansbrough and B.Rush and a veteran player set for a resurgent season in Mike Dunleavy.
An interesting mix to build around going forward but a lack of current impact players outside of Granger.
#11 – New Jersey Nets
Two good players in Brook Lopez and Devin Harris plus some useful role players.
Not enough talent to make a serious run at the playoffs.
#12 – Cleveland Cavaliers
Anderson Varejao is by far the Cavs best player and that is a sorry fact.
Mo Williams no longer has the protection of LeBron James. The Cavs have the weakest wing rotation in the NBA. A lack of defense/rebounding from the big men outside of Varejao.
JJ Hickson is a good young player who is ready for a breakout season but his efficiency levels will likely drop due to his still developing skill-level and the high level of defensive attention that he’ll draw. In other words, his numbers should improve a lot but his overall impact will likely stay in the same ball-park.
The good news is that the Cavs added Ramon Sessions who should have a very good season for Cleveland and Antawn Jamison is reportedly heading to the bench which gives Cleveland better lineup combinations to start the game.
I would like to see Sessions take over the starting PG spot and for Mo Williams to become a spark-plug off the bench. I think that would give Cleveland a better rotation.
#13 – Philadelphia 76ers
Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes will combine to make one of the weakest big man combinations defensively in the NBA … with things becoming increasingly problematic when key reserve Marreese Speights and undersized power forward Thaddeus Young rounding out the big man rotation.
The Sixers have one highly talented player in Andre Iguodala and two good perimeter players in Jrue Holiday (primed for a breakout year) and Evan Turner (similar to James Harden’s rookie year).
#14 – Toronto Raptors
Similar defensive issues as last season’s squad and less offensive talent.
It is going to be a long and highly irritating season in Toronto.
#15 – Washington Wizards
Some interesting variables with (1) Gilbert Arenas’ attempted comeback (2) Andray Blatche’s and JaVale McGee’s continued development (3) The health of Josh Howard (4) The readiness of John Wall.
If things go well, Washington may surge to a 30-34 win team. If they go extremely well, they might even fight to .500. However, things are more likely to remain similar to last season’s performances level and that will lead to a disappointing 20 win type season.
The Wizards big men’s lack of defensive ability will hurt them all season long as well as their wings lack of ability to impact the game outside of scoring plus their over-reliance on John Wall who should be capable of rookie season similar to Derrick Rose’s.
#1 – Los Angeles Lakers
The team to beat in the West
#2 – Portland Trailblazers
Greg Oden made major strides last season but that was missed by most due his short playing time and early season ending injury. If he can stay healthy this season, he is primed for a breakout campaign.
The Blazers still have the wonderful Brandon Roy and two other seven footers in LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby in addition to solid role players in Nicolas Batum, Wes Matthews, Rudy Fernandez, Andre Miller and hopefully Joel Przybilla (?).
I was a higher on their chances of making a title run before the Martell Webster trade (second tough wing defender to put on Kobe) but while I wonder about that move in the short term it may pay good dividends down the road.
#3 – Houston Rockets
We might have to wait until mid-season before we know whether Yao Ming is still a dominant force in the NBA and how many minutes he’ll be able to play.
Assuming, hoping really, that Yao can still be that dominant force, the Rockets are close to fielding a very very good team that is close to title contention.
The Rockets main strength lies in their depth and diverse set of options throughout the roster.
One more big transaction could push them over the top and Daryl Morey certainly has the assets + the inclination to make such a move. A team to watch in the trade market over the next few months.
#4 – San Antonio Spurs
A talented team at the top of their roster with Duncan, Ginobili, Parker and Splitter but I am still skeptical about how well their supporting cast complements the team.
Worried about the lack of the depth on the wings, the lack of quickness and mobility amongst their bigs, the lack of rebounding on the perimeter and the reliance on small backcourts with George Hill.
#5 – Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant should continue to make strides + their interior looks stronger physically with the addition of Cole Aldrich.
Likely still a little too weak to make a true title challenge but they’ll be hell to play come playoff time.
Another year of seasoning for Aldrich and Ibaka should lead to Oklahoma becoming a legit contender in the West.
#6 – Dallas Mavericks
Dallas have very nice depth but they lack a true second option to play alongside Dirk Nowitzki. They need one more impact player to push them into strong contention.
There are some interesting stories about Caron Butler’s summer workouts though. Hopefully we’ll see Caron get back to his best after an up and down season last year.
#7 – Denver Nuggets
Kenyon Martin is a major question mark. He hasn’t recovered well or quickly from serious injuries in the past. Consequently, there is a strong chance that he’ll be operating at a lower level all season long.
The Nuggets were already suffering from lapses in effort and focus defensively. Without Kenyon at full strength, things will likely become even more difficult for Denver on the defensive end of the floor.
On another note, the Nuggets are likely to trade Carmelo before the season ends which will likely end their postseason hopes. So a team with a strong chance of falling down the table later in the year due to upcoming personnel decisions.
#8 – Utah Jazz
A roster with good depth and good balance (by position) but the squad still lacks defensive strength and is not a contender.
Hopefully, the Jazz will start Al Jefferson at center alongside either Millsap or Kirilenko at the four. If nothing else, they’ll be a highly enjoyable team to watch next season.
#9 – Phoenix Suns
The brilliance of Steve Nash within the Suns run’n'gun offense will continue to lift the Suns above and beyond expected levels.
Robin Lopez is set for a big season.
#10 – Memphis Grizzlies
Another year, another step forward.
Memphis should finish above .500 next season.
#11 – New Orleans
A healthy Chris Paul, the addition of Trevor Ariza, a full season of Thornton starting should help push New Orleans above .500.
The Hornets need one or two of the top eight teams in the Conference to be hit by injuries to have a real shot at a playoff spot.
#12 – Los Angeles Clippers
Some interesting starters and Blake Griffin should push them up the standings but not a playoff threat.
#13 – Golden State Warriors
A horribly built roster that will once again suffer hugely on the defensive end of the floor.
#14 – Sacramento Kings
(1) The Kings will make a good jump up in the standings once Tyreke Evans improves his ability to play alongside other talented players. I think that is more likely to happen in year three or four than next season.
(2) How much does Dalembert play? He is the team’s second best player but does he play big minutes with Cousins, Thompson and Landry already on the roster? Doubtful.
For now, I am going to wait to see how those variables play out early in the season before moving the Kings up the roster.
#15 – Minnesota Timberwolves
A lot of useful supporting players on the roster but outside of Kevin Love they have no impact players.
Notes 1: Tiers
- Elite Teams – Miami and Boston
- Very Good Teams – Orlando and Chicago
- Good Teams – Atlanta and Milwaukee (Atlanta close to joining next tier)
- Average Teams – Charlotte and New York
- Decent Teams – Detroit and Indiana
- Poor Teams – New Jersey, Philadelphia, Toronto and Washington
- Elite Teams – Los Angeles Lakers
- Very Good to Elite Teams – Portland, Houston and San Antonio
- Very Good Teams – Oklahoma, Dallas, Denver
- Good Teams – Utah
- Solid Teams (slightly above average) – Memphis, Phoenix and New Orleans
- Poor Teams – Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota, Sacramento, Golden State Warriors
Notes 2: On Rankings System
- Teams are assumed to be healthy and in form … rankings only happen quarterly so short lapses of poor form or injuries do not factor into the rankings.
Notes 3: On Playoff Hopefuls
Top six teams are near certainties to make the playoffs. Not enough quality in the non-playoff teams to seriously threaten for one of the top six squad’s playoff spot. It would have to be a disaster of a campaign for one of them to miss out.
The Bobcats and Knicks look very likely to make the dance too but would be vulnerable to injuries. The three teams directly below them would need a lot of luck to threaten them otherwise.
The top eight teams are clearly a notch above the rest with the top seven near locks if healthy. However, you’d expect at least one of those teams to miss out due to injuries and Denver might also miss out due to a possible Carmelo Anthony mid-season trade.
So two of those spots could become available to the trio of Phoenix, Memphis and New Orleans … ergo, there is some real hope for those teams to break the barrier and get into the playoffs.