NBA Roundtable

Power Rankings

In General NBA on September 15, 2009 at 9:51 am

Late off-season power rankings — A quick check up to see how teams who’ve made major changes fare after their moves.

There will be another power rankings edition near the the end of training camp just before the regular season starts.

Eastern Conference

#1 Boston Celtics

A 65+ win team that could win 70 games.

They’re the team to beat until somebody proves otherwise.

#2 Orlando Magic

The Magic have an unbelievably talented roster right now.

They have the dominant interior presence, the dynamic go-to guy on the perimeter, the combo-forward third scoring option, and an All-Star quality point guard.

Beyond that, they bring out a supporting cast boasting talents like Marcin Gortat, Mikael Pietrus, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, Anthony Johnson, JJ Reddick, and Matt Barnes.

How do you stop these guys? So much firepower … and backed up by an elite defense and very good rebounding.

I’m very close to putting Orlando in that top spot.

#3 Cleveland Cavaliers

As the summer continues the more I warm up to these new look Cavaliers.

Still, the Cavs are one of those teams that I’m somewhat unconvinced of and I’ll have to wait to see play before I know just to what to make of them — in the Cavs case, how much of an upgrade they are over last season’s squad.

They’re the final title contender in the East.

#4 Washington Wizards

I go back and forth over whether to put Atlanta or Washington in the fourth spot. Both teams are fairly comparable overall, with Washington being the better offensive team and Atlanta having more balance. I decided to put the Wizards ahead of the Hawks because I think they can become (through roster changes) a contender easier than the Hawks can.

The Wizards aren’t a legitimate threat for the title … but they will be one of the best offensive teams in the league.

#5 Atlanta Hawks

More of the same for the Hawks.

#6 Chicago Bulls

I thought the Chicago Bulls had a great chance to win 50 games this coming season, once they got a full season out of John Salmons and Brad Miller plus better health from Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng.

However, since then, the Bulls have lost Ben Gordon who was their best scorer. That’ll hurt, it won’t derail them or anything, but it makes them worse. Still, the Bulls should win 45+ games.

That “+” sign after 45 wings, well, that stands for Derrick Rose’s improvement.

#7 Philadelphia 76ers

I don’t know what to make of the Sixers. I like the top four players, and I somewhat like Lou Williams, but I dislike the rest of their supporting cast.

My main issues with the team are:

  • How badly will Eddie Jordan hurt Samuel Dalembert? Will Dalembert start or come off the bench? Will he be playing 24 minutes again or will he be back up around 33 minutes a night?
  • Will Elton Brand start alongside Dalembert or not? Will he play most of his minutes at the four or the five? At what level will he return at? Can he still play at the level he used to?
  • Where do Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala figure in? Will they start together on the wings? Will Young switch to the sixth man role? Will Young be their starting power forward?
  • Just as many questions again about their bench …

I don’t know what to make of this Phily team.

#8 Miami Heat

There are two key variables at play for the Miami Heat — Jermaine O’Neal + Michael Beasley — if either one of those guys can up their poor performances from last season, then the Heat will win 45+ games, and if they can make major progress Miami might even threaten a 50 win season.

However, if they can’t, look out Heat fans because a lot of teams around you have made progress.

#9 Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks should play .500 ball when they’re healthy. But with Bogut and Redd coming off seasons where they only played thirty something games, health is a major concern.

The Bucks have a solid supporting cast around them with Mbah a Moute, Delfino, Kurt Thomas, Ilyasova, Warrick, Ridnour and Brandon Jennings … but the health of Redd + Bogut is what makes or breaks this team.

#10 Toronto Raptors

A good offensive team and a poor defensive team. They’ll be somewhere near .500 next year.

#11 Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats played a wee bit under .500 (27 wins, 29 losses) after a poor start last season. They should be able to repeat that success next season, and perhaps even build on it, with good additions in Tyson Chandler and Gerald Henderson.

#12 Detroit Pistons

The Pistons are another one of these Eastern Conference teams who have the talent to be in the .500 ball park.

The lost a fair dose of talent (McDyess, Sheed, Iverson, Afflalo, Herrmann) but they also brought some guys in (Gordon, Villanueva, Wilcox, the rookies).

#13 Indiana Pacers

Mike Dunleavy is the key to Indiana’s season. They’ll be a decent team, maybe even a mediocre team, if he’s healthy and playing his best basketball.

But if Dunleavy isn’t ready to go … it’ll be another disappointing year in Indiana.

I think the losses of Daniels, Jack and Rasho hurt the squad more than the additions of Hansbrough, Jones and Watson help. Although I do like Brandon Rush to step forward and improve on his rookie year, he was playing good basketball at the tail end of last season.

#14 New York Knicks

It looks like the Knicks are going to keep David Lee and Nate Robinson for another year. That will allow them to maintain last year’s 32 wins squad while adding Gallinari, Jordan Hill, and Toney Douglas into the fold.

Douglas is a solid player but with Duhon + Nate around it’s unclear how much he’ll play. My expectations are fairly low on Jordan Hill so I’m not expecting much there. However, in Gallinari, I think they have a very talented player and he could be a big difference maker if he’s healthy.

A lot of the East has improved around NY so if Gallinari isn’t ready to go, the Knicks could be taking a small step back on last year’s squad.

#15 New Jersey Nets

The Nets will likely be the worst team in the Eastern Conference next season but they have enough talent on their roster to avoid being a very poor team, possibly even becoming a decent team.

They have three good players in Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee. Both Lopez and Lee look good bets to improve dramatically on their rookie seasons, simply because their team has no other choice but to involve them heavily into their offense.

Beyond that they have a nice prospect in Terrence Williams, a very good role player in Rafer Alston,  and a decent role player in Keyon Dooling, plus another interesting prospect in Douglas-Roberts. Even a wild card or two up front with Yi and Sean Williams.

A lot of unknown variables at play here, and a good number of them (especially the important ones) should play out in NJ’s favour.

Western Conference

#1 Los Angeles Lakers

The defending champ — the team to beat

#2 San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs have one of the best five man crews in the NBA but their bench has a lot of question marks on the wing and with their backup bigs.

So they’re a legitimate contender but a step behind the Lakers.

#3 Houston Rockets

The Rockets are the third best team in the West when healthy … but since they’re not, they’ll very likely finish in the lottery next season.

They’ll be a very tough team to play against, as always, and they enough talent left on their roster to play somewhere around .500 for the season.

Lookout for big seasons from Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola.

  • Note: At this point I’m not expecting anything out of Tracy McGrady but if he can comeback early enough, and play at a high enough level, the Rockets could easily make a strong push for that final playoff spot in the West.

#4 Portland Trailblazers

The Blazers are something of a wild card.

They’re definitely the next best team in the West and they should comfortably finish with 55-60 wins while finishing with the third seed and homecourt advantage in the first round … but what’s unknown is how serious a contender will they will be?

  • Are they on par with the Lakers or Spurs? A frontrunner in the West?
  • Or, are they an outside contenders with a small chance of contending for a title? Closer to the Hornets + Jazz of the Western Conference?

It’ll all depend on how much development their young players show. I know one thing for sure, I can’t wait to find out!

#5 Utah Jazz

Same old, same old = a very good team who are incapable of matching up + beating the team’s ahead of them in the West.

It’s been this story for three years now, and for three years Utah’s management has failed to make changes. They have been wasting a golden opportunity.

#6 New Orleans Hornets

The Hornets are a very good team but not a legitimate contender. They lack the offensive diversity to out-battle the leading teams in the West once the playoffs roll around.

That said, they are still a 55 win caliber team. They have one of the best players in the game in Chris Paul, a powerful frontcourt duo in West and Okafor, a top shooter in Peja, a very good sixth man in Posey and good overall quality in the rest of their perimeter players.

They’re one (big) move away from being a frontrunner for a title.

#7 Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are in the same boat as the Hornets and the Jazz, they’re a good team but not good enough to challenge for a title.

Last season will likely be the best of the Chauncey Billups’ Nuggets-era, and in a couple more years they’ll have to start rebuilding.

Their one shining hope for better days to come is JR Smith. He’s been making good gradual progress over the past two years, and if he can take a leap forward and become an All-Star caliber guy next season, then the Nuggets could very well join the elite in the West.

#8 Dallas Mavericks

How well they use Shawn Marion (small forward or power forward) will decide how successful they are in the regular season.

Depending on which spot he’s used at — I’m doubtful about how much the Mavs will use Marion as a four since they have Dirk, Damp and Gooden — Marion could either be a solid difference maker (4-5 wins) or a very big one (9-10 wins?).

Either way, the Mavs aren’t built for playoff success. They’ll be an incredibly tough out if they play small ball and run’n’gun, but eventually somebody bigger and better will come around and squash them into the ground.

#9 Phoenix Suns

The Suns have two excellent players (Nash, Amare) and three good players (Hill, J-Rich, Barbosa) but their squad looks thin on talent from there on down.

Still, I like their best players to lead Phoenix to a 45+ win season and to claim that final playoff spot out in the West.

If players like Amundson, Clarke, Frye or Dragic perform well … things look very good in a hurry. If they perform badly, and Phoenix has any type of injury, things will go the other way just as quickly.

#10 Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell Westbook looks like he’s about ready to make a jump. During the summer league it looked like the game was slowing down for him. He was starting to understand where he could effect the game and also how to avoid some of those bothersome mistakes. He’s going to be a big difference maker for this Thunder team next season.

Furthermore, I like Kevin Durant to start improving his defense at long last, while continuing to evolve into the most effective scoring machine in the NBA.

The Thunder were playing .400 basketball over the last 50 games of last season. If these two step forward in the ways I expect them to, the Thunder should be up around .500. That’s before we get to players like James Harden and the continued comeback attempt of Nenad Krstic.

I don’t think they’re a playoff team just yet, mainly because the West is so strong at the top of the conference, but they’re getting very close.

#11 Golden State Warriors

If the Warriors used their talent in an orthodox fashion, I’d like their chances of playing .500 ball. They’ve got some nice big men, some good wings, and good guards, players who have distinct positions and can perform well when put in those conditions.

If they don’t, another disappointing season is on the cards.

For the most part, I expect Nellie to conform and play normal lineups and help lead Golden State to a good season.

#12 Los Angeles Clippers

I don’t know what to expect out of this team. They underperformed badly last season … mostly due to Baron Davis’ miserable play, injuries to key players (Kaman, Zach, Camby, BD), and the poor contributions that they got from their wings.

Will things really change next season? I’m doubtful.

If a lot of things play out in LA’s favour, they could play .500 ball next season, maybe even do better if they get Kaman’s best efforts … but I’m thinking it’ll be a mixed boat with some more injuries and more of a 30 win squad.

#13 Minnesota Timberwolves

The T’Wolves have three good players — Big Al, K-Love and Ramon Sessions — and two wild cards in Flynn and Corey Brewer. However, the rest of their squad is flat out frightening.

Still, those good players are pretty damn good and they should be able to lead Minny to 27-33 wins.

#14 Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies aren’t a basketball team. They’re a circus.

#15 Sacramento Kings

The worst team in the NBA by a large margin.

Their defense is absolutely atrocious. They can’t defend guards, nor can they defend wings, nor can they defend bigs. They don’t defend the post well, they don’t protect the rim, they don’t defend the screen and roll, they don’t defend the three point line. Their team defense is shambolic and they can’t stop opposing players from breaking down off the dribble. The Kings are an absolute mess defensively.

Offensively, they have one of the most effective scorers in the league in Kevin Martin and two solid role players on the wing (Nocioni + Cisco). They also have two talented bigs, but neither uses their talent intelligently enough … and a rookie point guard who has a litany of problems — turnovers, jump shot, inefficient scoring, overdribbling, decision making, playmaking ability are all question marks — to overcome first.

It’s going to be a long season for the Kings. More of the same. I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished with less than 20 wins again.

Notes

Western Conference Landscape

  • Two elite team – Lakers, Spurs
  • Two teams who may make the jump to elite — Rockets and Blazers
  • Four very good teams all capable of winning 48-50+ games – Hornets, Jazz, Nuggets, Mavs
  • One good team — Suns
  • Four decent to mediocre teams who have no hope of making the playoffs as currently constituted – Thunder, Warriors, Clippers
  • One poor team — Wolves
  • Two very poor squads who’ll finish with the worst records in the league – Grizzlies and Kings
  • One team decimated by injuries already — Rockets — Houston would have been an elite team if Yao + Tracy were healthy.

Eastern Conference Landscape

  • Three elite teams – Celtics, Cavs and Magic
  • Zero very good teams
  • Three good teams – Hawks, Wizards, Bulls — Chicago is a fair bit back on the other two, but significantly ahead of the trailing pack.
  • Six decent to mediocre teams — Pistons, Raptors, Sixers, Bobcats, Heat, Bucks
  • One decent team — Indiana
  • Two poor teams – Nets, Knicks — the Knicks could easily move up a notch or two if Gallinari is healthy and as good as I hope he is.
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  1. Dave,

    Great job!

    Aside of one or two minor quibbles, here or there … I can clearly understand your rationale for each selection. Some even made me LOL. 🙂

    Given the calibre of the team he was once able to build in Sacramento, what’s going on there right now must be absolutely killing a solid basketball guy like Geoff Petrie.

    Across the league there are a whole swack of teams that might finish anywhere from #6-12 in their respective conference, with the type of talent it takes to beat any of the elite teams on a given night but nowhere near the consistency and overall excellence required to go the distance.

    Some of their fans are going to be pleasantly surprised when their favourite team wins a big game against a well-regarded opponent but chagrinned to see where they actually finish in the end-of-year standings.

    1 Quality Depth
    2 Superstar talent
    3 The ability to Rebound & Defend when the game is on the line
    4 Superior coaching
    5 Superior manangement

    are what separate the Big Boyz from everybody else … and there are only a few teams each season with the goods to win it all.

  2. Umm… I don’t want to come off sounding like a fan boy, but to put the Raptors behind the 76ers and the Bucks is a little ridiculous.

    The 76ers have no starting point guard and even when they had a very solid one, they couldn’t get AI and Brand to play together. If you think Lou Williams or an 18 year old freshman are going to do a better job of integrating the two big guns into the offense, you are very, very mistaken.

    The Bucks? They have a one dimensional wing with a decent big (who they refuse to revolve the offense around). So two good players who unfortunately are horribly injury prone. The Bucks had one more win than the Raptors last year, but what have they actually done to improve the roster? As much as I love Jennings, it’s not enough to be even close to .500.

    To be honest, I stopped reading after the Bucks were #9 in the East.

  3. I intended to write this post about six weeks ago but I kept holding off in the hope that some big team would make another move, or some second tier team would try to make move and join the elite … but nothing has happened.

    Last season was great with the Cavs adding Mo Williams and the Rockets acquiring Ron Artest. Two teams with hopes of contending for a title adding good players and trying to push their way up the ladder.

    This year, the offseason has been kind of dead once the first few weeks of free agency were out of the way.

    So there haven’t been a whole pile of changes in these power rankings versus the end of season ones from last year. The only major change that I can see is a couple of teams in the East who I felt had a good chance of surpassing Atlanta, deciding to sit this one out.

    Hey Raptors Cowboy,

    The East has a whole bunch of teams that I think are comparable to one another. You could switch up the order between #7 all the way down to #12 or #13 and be fairly happy with. The differences between each of those teams are minimal.

    My Power Rankings

    I’m guessing you’re new to the site, or at least new to my power ranking system. I have no explanation at the top of this post, but I do on some of the older ones … I’ll just add a few notes in case it helps

    Anyway, I don’t drop teams while they’re suffering from injuries and because I only write one of these power rankings a couple of times a year I also do not drop teams who are suffering from poor form — in contrast to say ESPN, who produces weekly power rankings and needs a lot of changes each week in order to make it interesting — these posts are more like a balance sheet for talent on each team’s roster.

    For this reason, Houston were my #2 seed last year and remain my #3 seed this year despite the injuries to Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. Because if Houston were healthy, I reckon they’d be the third best team in the West.

    A couple of these teams are clearly going to suffer injuries and perform worse than there rankings here … since this is full-health scenario … and as you pointed out, and as I did in the post, Milwaukee look like they could be one of those teams.

    The Bucks

    As for the Bucks, I see them as the polar opposite to the Raptors.

    Toronto being a team that should rank somewhere between #10-#13 in offensive efficiency, and #20-#23 in defensive efficiency. While the Bucks will likely be somewhere between #7-#12 in defensive efficiency, and #21-#25 in offensive efficiency. In terms of overall ability, I don’t see much difference between the Raptors + Bucks, they are comparable overall teams who just go about their business in different ways.

    Prior to Andrew Bogut being injured last season, the Bucks were fifth in defensive efficiency and one of the top rebounding teams. I forget where they were offensively, but they were poor, but also under-performing relative to their talent (they could do better).

    I’m trying to point out that Milwaukee has a foundation there. It’s not laced with big names or lots of scorers, but a hard nosed grind it out style team, a team that can play very good defense + rebound the ball very well.

    At first glance they don’t look very good, but there’s more there than meets the eye.

    Philadelphia 76ers

    I don’t know what to expect from this team. No team in the NBA confuses me more than the Sixers right now.

    I read a good article a couple of months back on the Sixers but I never linked to it. It’s saved somewhere in my bookmarks, I’ll try to track it down over the next couple of days and post it. There’s some interesting +/- stats on the Sixers lineup with Brand in it.

    Anyway some rough thoughts on the Sixers

    — I thought they underperformed badly last season. Even without Brand, I thought this team should have won 45-47 games. A lot of that was bad coaching and also not playing Dalembert enough minutes.
    — I think a healthy Brand replaces most of Miller’s contributions
    — I think Lou Williams is a decent player and can be serviceable starter for Phily. He can be a nice scoring point guard who could easily put up 16 + 5 in starters minutes. He won’t come close to matching Miller’s impact on the team, but he’ll give Phily something to work with.
    — I’m not expecting anything out of Jrue Holiday. A better version of Royal Ivey. He was unimpressive in summer league, very timid offensively, and doesn’t look ready to be an impact player in the league. He could be good down the road, but in the immediate sense, he doesn’t look too good.
    — I think their supporting cast is very poor. If Phily have any injuries their team could suffer greatly.

    Hey Khandor,

    Thanks for the kind words!

  4. This is the weakest set of predictions I’ve ever seen.

    First, there is ZERO chance of the Rockets finishing with home court advantage, and without Yao and Artest VERY LITTLE chance of them making playoffs at all. I have them down there with OK, MEM, MIN, and the rest.

    Second, you are out of your mind ranking the Raptors outside of the top 8. There are six teams in the east that have improved themselves this summer: CLE, BOS, ORL, ATL, WASH, and TOR. Don’t be surprised if those are the top seeds in the conference next year.

  5. Hey, Dave,

    It would be remiss to not welcome you to the unofficial “out-of-your-mind club”. 🙂

  6. Khandor,

    Haha … very funny!

    Hello Craig,

    These are not predictions. They’re an evaluation of where teams stand overall when healthy + in form. I really should have put the guidelines at the top of this post, I’ll have to remember that in the future … anyway it’s on the main power rankings page.

    If you read the first two lines on the Houston Rockets paragraph you’d see that I share your belief in the Rockets finishing in the lottery next season.

    The Raptors could very well finish in the sixth seed but I doubt it and wouldn’t bet on it … but it could happen.

    As I’ve said in the past, I think there’s six teams firmly ahead of Toronto in the Eastern Conference so I see the seventh seed as more of a best case scenario. I don’t see the Raptors overtaking the team’s ahead of them without one, or more, of them falling apart.

  7. “These are not predictions. They’re an evaluation…” splitting hairs no? ‘Evaluations’ (in this case) is just an attempt at making you ‘predictions’ sound more scientific…. kind of like going to the fortune teller to ‘evaluate’ my future.

    I think the problem here is you are looking at players/teams in a bubble (healthy + top form) that just doesn’t exist. Its impossible to judge any team/player with that criteria because it has NEVER existed in the history of the NBA. Some player is always hurt, someone is never playing at top form, someone is over/under achieving for some period of time etc.

    Anyways everyone is entitled to their opinion…. but seriously the Bucks? The Bucks? you should really re-read that list of players and then considering their ranking again. I’ll be suprised if they don’t have the worst record in the league next year (even if resonably healthy). In the west the Rockets even making the playoffs is a stretch… 3rd best just won’t happen (but you have covered that already). Also thought you were being pretty tough on Dallas… there is some real talented players there with alot of experience.

    So, after that little rant… I still like most of them, or see them reasonably close to where they will end up.

  8. Hey Random Baller, thanks for the thoughts on the rankings!

    The Bucks are certainly going to be an interesting one.

    A lot of people are ranking them a lot lower … there seems to be a general consensus on that … but I just can’t help but feel that they’ll do better than expected next year, and if they can stay relatively healthy, I would be very surprised if they failed to make a strong push for one of those final playoff spots in the East.

    The Rankings

    I don’t mean to make it sound like a scientific evaluation … they’re 100% subjective.

    The goal of the rankings isn’t to figure out W-L records or playoff seeding. The goal is the rank the teams in terms of where they are for winning a title based on the talent presently on their roster. So teams who have season long injuries to players but who are expecting that player back next season (Yao Ming) do not lose their spot, because they’ll be right there for the title next season. The power rankings are not done singularly for this one season. They take a larger view than that.

    Anyway, it’s just how I choose to do them. I wouldn’t be interested in writing a load of power rankings were the order of teams is constantly changing in major ways based on the ebb and flow of a season … it’s more of a big picture view that is only looked at a couple of times a year.

    By healthy and in form, I mean:

    (1) Relatively healthy — judged with their best talent, rather than without their best player. I don’t just ignore the fact that Boston has Kevin Garnett on their roster simply because he’s injured.

    (2) In form — not top form, but not lousy form either — For example, one of the power rankings I wrote last season came right when Boston lost 7 of 9 games, and obviously I didn’t lower them based on that. Likewise, I don’t raise teams to the moon once they go on a roll and win 10 of 12 games or something along those lines.

    It’s a bigger picture view. It’s not about one season, or W-L records, or playoff seeding. It’s about where they stand on their quest for contending for a title based solely on the talent that is already on their roster.

    Summary

    It’s just how I choose to look at the league.

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