NBA Roundtable

Power Rankings

In General NBA on December 16, 2009 at 5:44 pm

The power rankings on this site will be made at five different points in the season – Preseason, First Quarter, Halfway, Third Quarter, prior to the Playoffs.

Teams under these Power Rankings are being judged when at full capacity (healthy) + when in form. Teams do not slide down the standings due to poor recent form (say losing five straight despite being a 60 win team) or because their star player is out injured (Yao Ming). The idea behind that is to take a longer view on the capabilities of the roster in terms of current ability. Also, it’s the reason why they are only quarterly reports (smaller variance).

A belated power rankings after the first quarter point of the 2009/10 season

Eastern Conference

#1 Boston Celtics

They’re the frontrunner until someone proves they can knock off a healthy Celtics team.

#2 Orlando Magic

The Magic have played well but I’m disappointed in their lack of use of Vince Carter as a playmaker and I’m not sure they’re getting the most out of their frontcourt options.

Anyway, the Magic are in good shape to make a run at the title.

#3 Cleveland Cavaliers

Preseason comment:

Different? Yes. Better? Ehh … the jury is still out on that one.

The Cavaliers look no better than last year’s side. They look a step behind both the Celtics and Magic. They still are, however, a legitimate threat for the title.

#4 Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks surprise me for the second straight year in a row.

Congratulations to Josh Smith. The light has finally come on for that young man. Smith has been the main reason for Atlanta’s improvement this season.

The Hawks are one step away from becoming a legitimate contender. They’re capable of beating anyone.

#5 Washington Wizards

Gilbert Arenas has not looked good. Can he return to his form of three years ago? Or is this the Arenas we should get used to seeing?

That answer will decide whether the Wizards are a playoff lock or a borderline playoff side. Until we figure that out, we just don’t know what this team is capable of.

I’m going to give the Wizards some more time to come good before dropping them down on these power rankings.

#6 Chicago Bulls

The Bulls ave suffered from injuries (Rose, Ty Thomas) and poor form (Salmons, Hinrich) in the first quarter of the season.

If Salmons and Hinrich fail to regain their touch offensively the Bulls are a sub .500 team.

#7 Detroit Pistons

Tayshaun Prince (3 games played) and Rip Hamilton (3 games played) have been missing in action … once they both get back and settled we’ll have a better idea of what the Pistons have to offer.

I like what I’ve seen from Coach Kuester and Ben Wallace. The Pistons are looking very good for another playoff berth.

#8 Philadelphia 76ers

Okay, so the Sixers went 5 and 6 over their first 11 games … and then lost 12 in a row? Huh? What is going with the Sixers?

I’m shocked at their under-performing defense.

  • Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young continue to fail to reproduce their previous defensive impact when paired out on the wing versus the two forward positions.
  • Sam Dalembert’s lack of minutes have hurt the Sixers hugely (defensively + overall).
  • Plus, Elton Brand has struggled defensively at the four.
  • But even at that … one would expect the Sixers to be somewhere in the middle of the pack defensively.

That said, with Iverson now on board, the Sixers look primed for a strong playoff push. Phily should play above .500 for the rest of the season. Those 12 games will be hard to make up though.

#9 Miami Heat

A lot of unanswered questions for the Heat …

  • Can Jermaine O’Neal maintain his level of performance? Also, can he stay healthy?
  • Michael Beasley has shown very good improvement defensively but there’s still a lot of areas in need of development. Where does his game go over the final three quarters of the year?
  • How well will Miami’s defense perform? They were excellent over the first two weeks of the season and looked capable of being a top 10 defensive squad but they’ve been slightly below average since then. Which is the true picture?

For now … I’m still leaning towards the slightly pessimistic side of things for the Heat but I do think they’re capable of finishing slightly above .500 and that they’re looking very good for a return to the playoffs.

#10 Charlotte Bobcats

Excellent trade to pickup Stephen Jackson. That move allows the Bobcats to create a small bit of separation from the trailing pack.

#11 Milwaukee Bucks

Here’s what I wrote in preseason:

Too early to know what to make of the Bucks. They have a good center, a solid two guard, and a weird but compelling mix of decent-to-solid role players … plus the defensive wizardry of Head Coach Scott Skiles.

Oh and that Brandon Jennings kid. I don’t have a clue how he’s going to do this season.

So, now we know Jennings is a serious talent. His rookie miscues + streaky/inefficient offensive play derides a lot of his value though.

#12 Toronto Raptors

It’s amazing … as disappointing as the Raptors have been … and with as much doom + gloom as there is around the club right now … Toronto are in 9th place in the East. Only one spot out of the playoffs.

However, there doesn’t appear to be a hope in hell that the Raptors make the postseason. Not with the lack of defensive effort on display. They’ll be below .500, likely in the 34-39 win range. Things could get worse in a hurry if Calderon is out for an extended period.

#13 Indiana Pacers

I’ve been looking over some of the previous power rankings over the last few weeks and I feel like I haven’t been giving the Pacers enough credit for the talent on their roster.

I like to leave teams where I feel they rank when reasonably healthy rather than dropping them way down the rankings due to an injury to a key player. Take a longer view on team’s roster and ability of that roster.

I’m not sure that I’ve been giving the Pacers the same benefit … part of the reason for my uneasiness with the situation is my skepticism of Mike Dunleavy returning to his performance level of three years ago. A career year.

Anyway, worth mentioning, I may not be treating the Pacers fairly here.

#14 New York Knicks

I’m surprised to see the Knicks perform so poorly after their performance last season. I guess the D’Antoni effect last year was only temporary.

New York have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league.

#15 New Jersey Nets

The Nets started off the season by losing 18 straight games and firing their long time Head Coach Lawrence Frank. This is not an accurate description of NJ’s talent level.

Western Conference

#1 Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are the team to beat until proven otherwise.

#2 San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs are the only other established (Portland are a question mark for now) contender in the Western Conference.

That said, as expected, well, worse than expected really, the Spurs clearly look a tier below the Lakers talent wise.

#3 Houston Rockets

Same auld for the Rockets — Injuries have decimated their team, leaving a squad that should play .430-.530 basketball. The team looks like the 9th-11th best roster in the West.

* I’m not expecting anything out of McGrady, but if he were able to come back at an early enough date, and play at a high level, the Rockets could make a strong playoff push.

#4 Portland Trailblazers

The injury to Greg Oden has ended the Blazers Championship hopes. The loss of Oden would have left the Blazers as a 50 win squad but further long term injuries to Travis Outlaw + Nicolas Batum have made life even more difficult for the young Blazers.

#5 Dallas Mavericks

In preseason, I said that I wasn’t giving the Mavericks enough credit and I’m still not today. I haven’t got a good feel for what this squad is capable of. I’m waiting to see how a healthy Josh Howard adds to the team.

Next couple of weeks could tell us a lot about the Mavericks. At the moment they look capable of being the third best team in the Western Conference.

#6 Utah Jazz

Second tier side … not capable of contending for a title.

Same problems for the fourth year in a row.

#7 Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have been disappointing.

  • Denver’s defense has dropped off. They were the second best defensive team in the West last year but only a mediocre defensive squad so far this season. I would expect this to improve as the year goes on though.
  • Carmelo Anthony hasn’t continued to his development. He needs to improve his non-scoring contributions. Too much focus on putting the ball in the basket.
  • JR Smith hasn’t played as well as he did last season … it looks like a pipe dream to expect him to become a difference maker for the side this season.

#8 Phoenix Suns

Preseason quote:

The Suns are still a good team. Not an elite team. Not a very good team. Not a threat in the playoffs. But good.

#9 Oklahoma City Thunder

I’m surprised at how well the Thunder are doing defensively. Fourth in defensive efficiency, fifth in forcing turnovers, and seventh in opposing eFG%.

Entering the season, I liked what the Thunder’s backcourt was going to bring defensively but I greatly disliked the lack of defensive contributions made by Durant, Green and Krstic. In other words, their starting frontcourt. Overall, I thought they’d be a respectable defensive outfit (somewhere in the middle of the pack).

I’m amazed at how far they’ve come defensively. This improvement should push the Thunder above the .500 threshold. A 44-48 win team with potential for more.

#10 Los Angeles Clippers

Still waiting to see how Blake Griffin adds to their team.

#11 New Orleans Hornets

What has happened to the Hornets defensively? Even last season, when they were relying on Hilton Armstrong as their starting center, the Hornets managed to play above average defensively? Where has the defensive effort gone?

Byron Scott was a big part of the Hornets defensive quality but New Orleans was struggling defensively before he was fired.

Without a sudden resurgence of their past play defensively … the Hornets simply aren’t an above average side.

A .500 team at best … and possibly worse.

#12 Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are all over the place … mismatched combinations everywhere.

#13 Memphis Grizzlies

Preseason comment:

The Grizzlies aren’t a basketball team, they’re a circus.

  1. Allen Iverson has gone.
  2. Marc Gasol has shown tremendous improvement.
  3. It looks like Rudy Gay is beginning to take step forwards too.

The Grizzlies are screwing up their rebuilding process, still, but they’re no longer a circus. They’re a poor basketball team. Good improvement over where they were at the start of the season.

#14 Sacramento Kings

I haven’t been watching the Kings enough. I have no idea how they’re playing so well. It doesn’t make sense to me at this point.

Until, I manage to catch a couple more games, I’m going to continue with the expectation that Sacramento falls hard over the remainder of the year.

If the Kings are capable of sustaining their early season play then they should move up the rankings a couple of spots (2-3 spots) at mid-season.

#15 Minnesota Timberwolves

Their Head Coach is killing their team. Their best players simply aren’t geared towards the Triangle offense. Dump the offense and the Wolves will start performing better.

It’s good to see Kevin Love back on the court. It’s a lot of fun to watch this guy rebound the basketball.


Western Conference Landscape

  • Two elite team – Lakers, Spurs
  • Two teams who may make the jump to elite — Rockets and Blazers
  • Three very good teams all capable of winning 50 or more games –  Jazz, Mavs, Nuggets,
  • Three good teams — Suns, Thunder, Hornets (??)
  • One mediocre team – Clippers
  • No decent teams
  • Three poor teams — Warriors, Grizzlies and Kings
  • One very poor team — Wolves
  • Two teams decimated by injuries already — Rockets + Portland — both would be elite or near elite teams if healthy.

Eastern Conference Landscape

  • Three elite teams – Celtics, Cavs and Magic
  • One very good team — Hawks
  • One good teams – Wizards
  • Two solid teams – Bulls and Pistons
  • Four mediocre teams — Sixers, Bobcats, Heat, Bucks
  • Two decent teams — Raptors, Pacers
  • 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.
  • Zero very poor teams

Power Rankings Archive

2008/09 Season

  1. As far as Sacramento goes, I’d say Tyreke Evans has a good bit to do with their success.

    One other thing — in your intro, you mentioned that you would be rating teams based on full capacity; however, throughout the article, you make a lot of critiques based on injury.

    Am I reading you correctly, or am I missing something?

    Regardless, I think you’re spot on about the top 3-6 teams, which at the end of the day are all that really matter. The only team I’d disagree on is Dallas — I think they’ve got the talent to beat anyone in a 7-game series if they stay healthy. I like the way Carlisle is utilizing that their talent.

  2. I agree re Dallas. Also don’t think H-town is as good as you’ve given them credit for. No doubt they get the MOST out of their talent (and I give them credit for that), but their collective talent level is a few steps below the league’s elite (or even teams like DEN, POR, PHX, etc). Other than that, great analysis!

  3. Dave,

    Good job, as always!

    Without any number-crunching, these are my current groupings of teams …


    Group 1 [choose order at your own discretion]
    Orlando, Boston

    Group 2 [choose order at your own discretion]
    Atlanta, Cleveland

    Group 3

    Group 4 [choose order at your own discretion]
    Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, Indiana, Milwaukee, Toronto, Washinton, New York, Philadelphia

    Group 5
    New Jersey


    Group 1
    LA Lakers

    Group 2 [choose order at your own discretion]
    Dallas, Denver, San Antonio

    Group 3 [choose order at your own discretion]
    Phoenix, Portland, Utah

    Group 4 [choose order at your own discretion]
    Houston, LA Clippers, Memphis, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Sacramento

    Group 5 [choose order at your own discretion]
    Golden State, Minnesota

  4. Hey folks, thanks for the comments

    Rankings + Injuries / Short Term Form

    The ranking position stays the same regardless of injury but the comment is more about what’s going on with the club at the present time (surprises, player development, regression, bad decisions, injuries).

    For example — Houston, I think they’re the third best team in the West when Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady (large variable) are healthy so they hold onto the #3 spot. But Yao is out with injury (plus McGrady’s ongoing situation) so I reckon their squad is only capable of a .500 or slightly above record this season (which would rank them 8th-10th in the West). So I make a comment to point out that’s where I’d expect them to finish this season.

    Ranking Position = where a club should be in their conference while healthy + playing solid basketball
    Comment = happenings going on around the team at present

    Short term form = Boston losing 7 of 9 last season. Not an accurate picture of the team, just like Boston winning 27 of 29 games to start the season wasn’t an accurate view of the team. More about expected form of the long haul (a season’s worth) given a team’s use of their own players.


    I’ve watched their last two games now. They Kings should be ahead of the Warriors + Grizzlies. They’re a little behind the Clippers once Blake Griffin gets onto the court. New Orleans? Difficult one. They’re under-performing badly at the moment. Not sure whether I’d put the Kings ahead of them or not.

    Anyway, the Kings should be the #11 or #12 team in the West and considered a decent team. I won’t change the above post but they’ll be up there on the next power rankings at mid-season.

    I’ll have a little more on Sacramento today or tomorrow.

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