NBA Roundtable

Power Rankings: Lottery Teams

In General NBA on April 15, 2010 at 11:26 am

A special one-time power rankings list for lottery teams based on their opportunities to improve this summer + potential place in the standings next year accounting for:

  1. Expected draft slot
  2. Cap space
  3. Room for internal development.
  4. Valuable trade assets
  5. Return to health of injured players

Teams will be primarily ranked on their ability to win next season and to a lesser degree their ability to build a winner long term based on their current personnel (number of quality building blocks).

Note: We’re largely talking about opportunities here. Some teams will capitalize on them and some will not.

Power Rankings

#1 — Houston Rockets

Yao Ming will return from injury and turn the Rockets into a 55+ win caliber basketball team.

In terms of free agency, Luis Scola is a certainty to return to the Rockets and Kyle Lowry is likely to return too. The Rockets are unlikely to spend much in free agency beyond those two players though due to luxury tax concerns. Houston will have a late lottery pick and that player should be good enough to crack their rotation but is unlikely to fill a key role for the club next season given their overall strength + depth.

#2 — LA Clippers

The Clippers have Blake Griffin returning from injury and enough cap space to add a maximum contract player.

A five man core of Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Blake Griffin, Chris Kaman and a new max contract player should create a playoff caliber basketball team.

Add another lottery pick on top of that … the Clippers are sitting pretty right now.

#3 — New York Knicks

The Knicks have Danilo Gallinari + Wilson Chandler + enough cap space to sign the equivalent of two max contract free agents.

The Knicks are likely to strike out on their first options (Bron, Wade, Bosh) but even their second choices (Amare, Gay, Boozer) will improve this team greatly.

The Knicks should become at least 40-45 win team and more likely become a 45-52 win team. If they strike gold and land their top choices, the Knicks will become a 55-65 win team.

#4 — New Orleans Hornets

The Hornets have several high quality trade assets (1) Darren Collison (2) David West with his cap friendly contract (3) a plethora of expiring contracts.

Just getting Chris Paul back healthy should allow the Hornets to become a 42-45 win team next season but if they capitalize on those trade assets the Hornets could become a 50+ win team next season.

#5 — Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have a solid roster with some talented players on it but they are (1) largely built for the present tense [Zach Randolph] (2) are not developing two of their best prospects in a fruitful manner [Mayo + Thabeet].

The Grizzlies will be able to take another step forward next season assuming (1) Randolph can repeat his strong play from this season (2) Gay and Brewer are both resigned (3) the team drafts well and does some decent work in free agency filling out their roster.

Should the Grizzlies accomplish those goals, they’ll be able to win somewhere around 50 games.

#6 — New Jersey Nets

Brook Lopez + Devin Harris + $25 million in cap space + a top five draft pick

If the Nets land a top two pick, they should be able to build a team that wins at least 45 games next season. If they fail to land the pick, their chances in free agency will decrease also, and they could get stuck in a 30-35 win range.

A lot of pressure on Rod Thorn to deliver in free agency given the nature of their squad. He needs some help (draft pick).

Note: The Nets are lower than New York and New Orleans because they are reliant on winning a top two draft pick. Their likelihood of failing to get that pick is stronger than the Knicks + Hornets likelihood of not being able to capitalize on their assets.

#7 — Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers have a huge problem with Elton Brand in terms of his (1) contract (2) value on the court (3) the minutes issue between himself, Young, Speights and Dalembert.

Philadelphia looks like it’s found it’s answer at the point guard spot with Jrue Holiday. They also have an All-Star talent on the wing in Andre Iguodala and a quality undersized power forward in Thaddeus Young. That is the core of their squad going forward. For the time being, Dalembert should also be considered a main cog in the team and Speights should be considered their best non-core player prospect.

If Philadelphia build their squad around those ideals they should be able to get back in the playoffs next season. If they find a way to add a go-to scoring threat on the wing alongside Iggy, then they could become a 50 win team but there is no clear avenue to that end result.

#8 — Golden State Warriors

Their franchise is in disarray and neither their management or coaching staff have shown and clear and concise vision for the team long term.

There is some talent here. Anthony Randolph and Stephen Curry are both first rate prospects. They have some quality young veterans in Biedrins and Monta Ellis. A good veteran scorer in Corey Maggette. Another pair of good young players in Morrow and Wright. And some interesting young role players in Azubuike, CJ Watson and Turiaf. Plus, they’ll be adding a high lottery pick to the mix.

There is a lot to work with in Golden State but it’ll require several trades and a realizable vision for the team … and their front office has yet to show themselves capable of doing that.

Note: The reason GSW is ahead of the teams below them is because they have two very good building blocks in Anthony Randolph and Stephen Curry. Even though the team isn’t in great shape, or direction, at the moment … two players that young and with that much quality will give the Warriors numerous attempts at building a top basketball team in the future.

#9 —  Sacramento Kings

The Kings have a terrific young guard in Tyreke Evans. There is still some uncertainty as to what is his best position. He clearly played his best basketball as a two guard this season but with more seasoning his point guard play should improve. Hence, the lack of clarity.

The Kings do not have much else in their foundation. Some solid players in Thompson and Landry and to a lesser degree Greene, Hawes and Garcia.

Sacramento needs to add some high quality talent to put alongside Tyreke Evans … the Kings are still in the very early stages of their development. Only one step removed (Tyreke), maybe two (Thompson/Landry), from starting with a blank roster.

#10 — Minnesota Timberwolves

A lot of changes on the horizon for the Wolves. They have a high lottery pick + considerable cap space + will shop Al Jefferson on the trade market this summer.

The Wolves will look to create some real balance within their squad and create a young roster that is capable of sustainable development.

Too many large variables to pin down a win projection but they could become anywhere from a 30-to-40 win basketball team if the cards fall in a friendly manner. Or, if things go very badly, Minnesota could be stuck as a 20 win ball club.

A lot of possibilities but also few guarantees and a lot of work that needs to be done.

#11 — Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are in “wait mode” for another 12 months.

They’ll be comparable to the squad we saw this past season.

#12 — Detroit Pistons

The Pistons troubles are going to continue to grow with Kwame Brown and Ben Wallace entering free agency. Those two players provide the backbone to their squad defensively and on the backboards. Without them in the lineup, Detroit will quickly become a 30-35 win caliber team.

The Pistons have huge rebuilding issues and I haven’t been impressed with Joe Dumars’ strategy so far. Things will likely get worse before they get better.

#13 — Toronto Raptors

Chris Bosh will leave the Raptors this summer. There is no point staying in Toronto when Bryan Colangelo is willing to give him his full contract in a sign and trade sending him to a team far superior to the Raptors.

Consequently, the Raptors immediate future looks fairly bleak. They are a 24-28 win team assuming Calderon and Amir stay + DeRozan makes moderate improvements.

#14 — Washington Wizards

Not a lot of hope knocking around in Washington these days.

Gilbert Arenas will be back from suspension but he, so far, has proven incapable of getting back to his best form. His contract and his overbearing personality are going to be difficult barriers to rebuilding.

Andray Blatche showed impressive potential when he had the run of the team but was still a (1) inefficient scorer (2) weak defender (3) below average rebounder. It’s hard to tell which direction his career takes next season. He may blossom after the experience he gained this year or he may flounder now that he has more competition for touches and shot attempts.

JaVale McGee still looks a fair bit away from being a 30 minute a night player and there is little young talent on the roster outside of him and Blatche.

The Wizards need to get lucky during the lottery selections and get a high pick. That is their best/only chance at turning around their club’s fortunes this summer.

Washington do have some cap space but given the state of their roster they’re unlikely to entice any of the top names to sign there. They’re better off keeping their money, letting their youngsters grow while giving Gilbert a chance to get his game back, and then, finally, spend their money the following offseason.

Note: I view Arenas as a large negative for the Wizards until he proves otherwise.

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  1. Nice piece, Dave. Interesting that you feel the Raps will be that bad even if they are able to do a sign + trade with CB4.

    I think they’ll be even worse than you suggest if CB4 simply leaves, as I think luring quality FA’s will be nigh-impossible, and I think Colangelo will sign the wrong guys even if the right guys were willing to join this organization.

    But, if a sign + trade goes down, I think there’s the possibility of getting some prospects for the future in return. Personally, I’d HATE to see us pick up Beasley, and would rather an expiring deal + picks.

    In your opinion, are Bargs and Hedo basically untradeable at this point? I fear that’s the case…

    Also, I’m surprised you have the clips and knicks as the #2 + #3 team here. I don’t think there’s any way the Clips get to 50-55 wins, based on what I’ve seen from them this year. As for the Knicks, I think the second-choice players you have listed for them might get them to .500, but no further. Both teams have a LOT of bad/useless parts, IMO, and I’d put the Hornets/Grizz ahead of them. But, as you say, this is all about capitalizing on opportunities… who knows how it will play out this summer.

  2. Hey Scott G,

    Sign and Trade

    I think we know with a high degree of accuracy what teams will be offering in a sign and trade for Bosh.

    Miami will offer a package based around Beasley. New York will offer David Lee. The Bulls will try to avoid including Luol Deng in the deal and will attempt to make their offer based around Taj Gibson + future picks. I fully expect Chicago to keep Joakim Noah off the table.

    Those are three most likely destinations. David Lee is the only player in that bunch who figures to be a difference maker next season. If the Raptors get him to replace Bosh, they might manage to get close to .500 again, but either of the two other options and I’m expecting that 25-30 win range.

    I consider Miami the most likely destination for Bosh with Chicago in second place. I think the Knicks can pass out Chicago but they’ll need to get someone else to sign there first (before Bosh). So, the David Lee package is the most unlikely of the three.

    Hedo + Bargnani

    I’m of the belief that young seven footers who can score and are as offensively talented as Bargnani is always have trade value. I think Bargnani is a positive trade asset. Not sure what they can get back but I don’t view him as a problem (trade wise).

    Hedo Turkoglu is a different story. It’s difficult to see any quality trade avenues here … the only reasonable trade ideas I have come across so far are for a player like Elton Brand. Someone with a bad long term deal with many question marks by his name. A high risk trade that will likely blow up in the Raptors face.

    The Raptors will likely be best off keeping Turkoglu for the time being.

    Clippers + Knicks

    I expect Blake Griffin to be a big difference maker for the Clippers. Close to 20-10 production with efficient scoring. If the Clippers could then land a player like Joe Johnson … that would give them a formidable starting five. A serviceable bench on top of that and I can see them in the 50 win neighbourhood.

    A player like Rudy Gay instead of JJ and the Clippers should be somewhat comparable to the Grizzlies this season but I would expect them to be slightly better than Memphis.

    The Knicks? Yeah, you’re right, two of those second choice players would likely only get NY to .500. A four player combo of Chandler-Gay-Gallo-Amare would be good-to-very good but there isn’t enough depth behind them.

    A Joe Johnson (forgot to list) and Amare Stoudemire combination along with Gallo and Chandler could get to that 47-52 win range.

  3. Dave,

    Why is Washington so low? I realize Gilbert’s contract is atrocious, and he’s all but washed up — but they do have some flexibility, as well as a high pick.

    Also, regarding Detroit (from a Pistons fan): I think if Ben Wallace plays next year, he plays for the Pistons. Could be wrong, but that’s the collective sense in the area. If we can land a big man in the draft, trade Tay + Wilcox’s expiring deals, and re-sign Ben Wallace as a backup PF/C, would could approach 35-38 wins. That’s a far cry from greatness, though.

  4. Hey brgulker,

    Detroit Pistons

    I am taking the wait and see approach with the Pistons. I’m more doubtful than optimistic.

    Everything Joe Dumars has said and done so far suggests that he’ll only trade Tayshaun Prince or Rip Hamilton for talent and I think it’ll be difficult to upgrade them that way (better to go for cap flexibility and then free agency). Also, given his stance, it’s hard to see Joe Dumars including young prospects or draft picks in combination with those expiring contracts without being offered an elite player in exchange. So their value as expiring contracts will be limited and other teams are likely to out-bid them even if Detroit were to use them in that fashion.

    I think you’re right about Ben Wallace — that if he returns for one more season, he’ll likely stay with the Pistons — but I don’t think it’s a certainty so I’m going to wait awhile before ruling him in.

    Also, given Big Ben’s age, I don’t want to expect too much from him. Will he be able to play 29 minutes a night again or will go back down to 18-22mpg? Will he maintain his level of performance or will it drop? Will Detroit try to move him into a secondary role similar to the one they envisioned him filling when Wallace signed last season? A lot of unknowns.

    Then you also have the Will Bynum + Ben Gordon + Rodney Stuckey + Rip Hamilton question … does Joe Dumars try to re-sign Bynum or not? Will we get to see that three guard setup or will we continue to see more small backcourts and Hamilton at SF?

    So, I’m taking the cautious approach on Detroit. Their opportunities are fairly poor, due to Dumars’ current stance, relative to other lottery teams and they have some questions over some of their own free agents.

    Washington Wizards

    Free agency opportunities are not created equal. They basically come down to two main factors — money + sporting side of things … how good a team, how good a role is being offered, how many minutes, does the coach suit my skill-set, do I want to play alongside these players, and most importantly do I have a chance to win — and in those terms, Washington is one of the worst free agency destinations on the market this summer.

    Consequently, I’m starting from a pessimistic outlook on their use of their cap space.

    Add to that the question marks on Arenas + Blatche + their other young talent’s readiness to be main contributors next season + the uncertainty of where their high lottery pick will fall … And I think it’s clear there are more pitfalls than opportunities here for Washington.

    Also, the Wizards have been playing at a 23 win pace over the final 33 or so games of the season, so there are several teams already ahead of them in the talent department and they’ll need a lot of help to catch up to them. Overtaking them will take a considerable influx of talent.

    High Lottery Teams

    The order of the lottery is still undecided. Once the order of those picks become clear … some team’s opportunities will get a big jump.

    I’m wary of giving any team credit for being awarded Wall or Turner until that happens. When it does, I will adjust these power rankings accordingly.

    Even the Nets, worst team in the league, are more likely to end up with the third or fourth picks (53.5%) in the draft than a top two pick (46.5%).

    So some teams will jump up in the standings in a large way once the exact order of those ping pong balls are decided.

  5. Dave, great response! Thanks!

    Regarding some of your Detroit comments specifically:

    Joe has said, on record, on multiple occasions that he’s going to re-sign Bynum. Hard to tell if it’s posturing or sincerity (I think some combo of both, personally). That leaves us with a strange 4-guard rotation, for sure.

    Re: Tayshaun — I think his expiring contract alone ought to fetch something, right? Some combination of young talent and pick(s), I would guess.

    I have heard Joe’s statements about getting talent in return for talent, but again, I have to think that some of that is posturing to keep himself from getting lowballed.

    Re: Big Ben — I’m with you on the uncertainty. Asking any more than 18-22 minutes per night in a reserve role (even if he’s starting) would be too much. We have to solidify it with youth.

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