NBA Roundtable

Power Rankings

In General NBA on February 18, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Early Season Rankings for 2011/12

Nearing the halfway point in the 2012 regular season. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to get around to doing any power rankings until now. So we’ll have two editions this season. One now and one just before the playoffs.

A reminder over the old rules — firstly, rankings are done infrequently so recent results carry minimal weight while long term ability takes prime importance. Secondly, these rankings do not take into account injuries. They judge teams as they would be if their roster was fully intact (ie with injured star player on the court).

Eastern Conference

#1 — Miami Heat

The team to beat

#2 — Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have incredible depth and balance but I am not convinced their leaders are ready to push them past Miami. Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng all need to do more in that matchup against Miami.

#3 — Philadelphia 76ers

Along with Chicago and Denver, Philadelphia have one of the top three benches in the NBA. Lou Williams is one of the top sixth men in the NBA. Thaddeus Young is an excellent backup combo forward and Evan Turner is a very talented multi-dimensional wing. Vucevic is a quality backup center with a bright future.

They also have a very solid starting lineup given Spencer Hawes’ improvement and the continued development of Jrue Holiday. Andre Iguodala is having another fantastic season and has finally been awarded a much deserved All-Star spot. Elton Brand is playing reasonably well and Jodie Meeks continues to out-perform my expectations.

A team that plays beautiful basketball. Togetherness. Quality defense. Rebounding. Ball movement. Balanced scoring. A joy to watch. One of my favourite teams in the league this season.

#4 — New York Knicks

I am sitting here thinking; given Jeremy Lin’s surprisingly good play, the near return of Baron Davis and the recent signing of JR Smith – have the New York Knicks passed by Atlanta, Boston, Indiana and Orlando? I think so.

I think they are shaping up to be a very dangerous playoff team. The scoring punch between Carmelo and Amare. The defensive anchor and rebounder in Tyson Chandler. Solid PG play in Lin and Baron. A quality backup wing in JR Smith. A couple of good third string guards in Toney Douglas and Iman Shumpert. A decent backup PF in Jared Jeffries.

Yeah, I think they’ve just inched ahead of the competition.

#5 — Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta having another strong season especially considering the loss of Al Horford who hopes to return come playoff time. Not strong enough to be anything more than a first or second round out though.

#6 — Boston Celtics

The Celtics badly need another impact player on their team. Preferably a big.

That suggested trade of Anderson Varejao for Jermaine O’Neal + draft picks would have been fantastic for Boston and firmly put them back in the mix. A second tier contender but a contender nonetheless.

However, without that move or a comparable addition, I cannot view the Celtics as a title contender. A solid playoff team but no more than that.

#7 — Indiana Pacers

Quality team with impressive balance and depth but they will only go as far as Paul George takes him and he simply is not ready.

Most likely a one and done team come playoff time.

#8 — Orlando Magic

This team wouldn’t win more than 25 games (82games) without Dwight Howard. That is how much he is carrying them.

Usual complaints

  • Starting lineup has one average starter and three below average starters (outside of Dwight). The bench has one high level backup in JJ Redick and a useful one in Glen Davis. Other than that, the Magic have very little help off the pine.
  • They have very little to offer defensively outside of Dwight Howard. Offensively, they lack dribble penetration and shot-creation. They are too predictable and not good enough at it for it to work against top defensive teams.

#9 — Milwaukee Bucks

A solid roster which should be able to play .500 ball when Bogut is in the lineup. Without Bogut, this team wouldn’t crack 30 wins (82games).

Brandon Jennings has upped his play lately but it raises the question as to whether this is only because he is allowed to dominate the ball now due to several players departures (J.Salmons, C.Maggette trade for S.Jackson who has been benched, A.Bogut to injury) or if we can expect this level of performance once someone puts some talent around him? You know players who need the ball in their hands to make plays. Can Brandon adapt to them?

I don’t know what the answer is but I am not sold on his improvement yet. I want to see him do it when there is more talent around him.

#10 — New Jersey Nets

The Brook Lopez injury has hurt them early in the season but they should improve in the second half once Lopez returns.

Minimal contributions from the rest of their big men and from their small forwards. MarShon Brooks has shown nice flashes but is still learning the NBA game. J.Farmar and S.Gaines have given nice play at backup PG.

Deron Williams is doing all that he can but he needs more help.

#11 — Cleveland Cavaliers

Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao provide a lot of reasons for optimism.

A couple of other useful players on their team too in Ramon Sessions, Omri Casspi and Tristan Thompson. The rest of the rotation is very light in the talent department though.

Not enough talent to make the playoffs but they are not that far away either. Probably a 30-35 win team (82game schedule).

#12 — Detroit Pistons

Frequently getting outplayed on the interior. Not enough defense. Not enough rebounding. Small backcourts which get beaten up with regularity. Lots of holes.

There are an awful lot of painful games in Detroit this season.

#13 — Toronto Raptors

Quite a few solid role players but they lack difference makers. Need to move their veterans for draft picks (Barbosa, Kleiza).

#14 — Washington Wizards

They have some useful young players but their squad as a whole badly lacks maturity both on and off the court. Washington need to re-balance their locker room in order to properly develop the talented young players they have in place.

With some cap space and another high lottery pick, the Wizards may be primed for a breakout year next season.

#15 — Charlotte Bobcats

Lack talent — completely blew up their roster and are now starting from scratch.

Western Conference

#1 — Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have underperformed all season long. They are not giving full effort on defense or on the boards and the leading offenders in this area have been Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.

They have clear separation from the pack talent wise but if they continue to play down to their competition … then they are simply another one in the pack.

Serious questions need to be asked about Head Coach Scott Brooks.

#2 — Dallas Mavericks

Lots of questions remain about the Mavs ability to defend their title.

  • How will their interior defense fare without Tyson Chandler? Brendan Haywood is a solid player but he is not the impact player Tyson Chandler is.
  • With Delonte West going down with a serious injury, do they have a quality replacement for JJ Barea? Is Roddy Beaubois finally ready to contribute?
  • What has happened to Lamar Odom? Surely he will play much better as the year goes on but he has struggled mightily in Dallas’ setup and doesn’t look likely to replicate his form from last season with the Lakers.
  • Can Vince Carter be depended on? He has started the season strong but his play in Phoenix and Orlando did very little to convince me that he’ll be a net positive come playoff time.

#3 — Portland Trailblazers

The Blazers have a very nice team led by LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace with multiple quality supporting pieces. Lot of contributors. Not an elite team but a very good one.

Can play multiple different types of lineups to create or negate matchup problems + play multiple styles of play.

#4 — Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have fantastic depth and lots of quality players but they lack top tier talent in their starting unit and are not a contender as a result. They will be a tough out come playoff time.

#5 — Memphis Grizzlies

The losses of Greivis Vasquez (trade), Shane Battier (free agency) and Darell Arthur (injury) have weakened their bench considerably. Zach Randolph has been injured for most of the season but should be back before the playoffs to strengthen them for the postseason.

However, Rudy Gay is back in action to help form one of the strongest starting units in the league. The Grizzlies are very close to a title. If their bench was a little stronger, they’d be my second favourite to win the West. Without that bench, I am going to dock them a little but really there is very little separation between them and the teams ahead of them.

#6 — Los Angeles Clippers

Losing Chauncey Billups for the rest of the season is a big blow to their supporting cast. They may struggle to retain Billups in the off-season too so he may be finished with the Clippers. Very real chance he leaves in the summer to move back to his optimal position at point guard for a different title contender. As a result, I am no longer considering him part of this squad.

That leaves the Clippers with a backcourt of Chris Paul, Mo Williams and Randy Foye. A small forward duo of Caron Butler and Ryan Gomes. A big man rotation consisting of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans.

My thinking on the Clippers is that they won’t get enough from their wing players + that DeAndre Jordan is still in too early a phase of his development to be the difference maker in the middle that they need him to be. As a result, I’m thinking this is a dangerous playoff team but not a contender.

#7 — Los Angeles Lakers

Their top three players are excellent and fully capable of leading a team to a Championship.

However, 4 through 10, the Lakers might well be the worst team in the league. Their lack of quality contributions from their supporting cast will doom this team in the playoffs. Mike Brown is a worry too.

#8 — San Antonio Spurs

A regular season that is ill-fitted for post-season success. The Spurs need to add some quality defender/rebounders up front alongside Tim Duncan to regain their status as a title contender.

The Spurs Big Three and some of their role players are still capable of reaching that level if they can manage to get help but it doesn’t look like any is coming.

#9 — Houston Rockets

A playoff caliber team that is very unlucky to be in the very deep Western Conference.

Luis Scola’s play this season has been a cause for concern. Looks like he have fallen off quite a bit. Hopefully, that is not the case and we’ll see some much improved play from Scola in the second half of the season.

#10 — Phoenix Suns

I am still shocked that the Suns waived Mickael Pietrus + made little to no attempt to shore up their two guard spot and/or add some much needed depth on the wings this season. Also, their backup PG situation is very weak.

They have enough quality players to be a solid ball-club but their continued mismanagement since the loss of Steve Kerr has ruled out that possibility once again. Arguably the worst front office in the league.

A 35 win team (82games).

#11 — New Orleans Hornets

A pretty decent team when healthy. A lot of useful veteran players like Jarrett Jack, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, Carl Landry, Chris Kaman and Greivis Vasquez.

That squad could play close to .500 if it wasn’t constantly battling injuries.

#12 — Minnesota Timberwolves

Starting to make some progress

  • Ricky Rubio has been a joy to behold.
  • Kevin Love has continued to progress and has now become a legitimate #2 on a title contender.
  • Pekovic has started to play well recently and is finally showing why so many rated him highly as a draft prospect a few years ago
  • Getting decent play out of Luke Ridnour (albeit forced out of position where is largely ineffective for large periods of time), JJ Barea + inconsistent periods of quality from Derrick Williams and Darko Milicic.
  • Unfortunately, still getting very little out of Michael Beasley and Wes Johnson continues to be very passive and is having little impact on the outcome of games. As a result, getting very little from their small forward position. Their two guard play is non-existent.  So minimal contributions from their wing play overall. That is stopping Minnesota from being a .500 or even a better than .500 team.

Still have a fair bit of work ahead of them before they are ready to compete for a playoff spot. Maybe next season.

#13 — Utah Jazz

I am very surprised by Utah’s performance so far this season. I had them pegged for a 27-32 win caliber team (82games) this season. Not a contender for a playoff spot.

That said, I don’t expect them to be capable of keeping this up for the remainder of the season.

#14 — Golden State Warriors

A fair bit of individual talent on this team but it is worst assembled cast of players in the league.

  • Undersized backcourt
  • Finesse three in Dorell Wright who is ill-suited to start at the position in combination with an undersized two and finesse PG.
  • A pillow soft starting five in Andris Biedrins
  • Non-defender at PF in David Lee

That has to be the least complementary starting unit in the league. They make each other worse. Their individual talent (outside of Biedrins) is pretty good but collectively they take a major step back because their games to complement one another and their wings are being used in roles which do not maximize their talents.

Brandon Rush was a nice acquisition. Finally gave Golden State a perimeter player who is an above average defender and rebounder because before he arrived they had not a single rotation player on the perimeter who could do so. The Kwame Brown signing was also a solid move and he should have been starting from Day One but unfortunately he went down with a season ending injury.

Ekpe Udoh continues to underwhelm. His rebounding is confoundedly abysmal and his offensive skill-set has disappeared since joining the NBA. I had hopes that he would increase his board work with some more minutes at his natural PF position (instead of being forced to play out of position where he less effective as an undersized C) and that he would find his midrange jumper given time … but I am starting to lose faith in that happening.

#15 — Sacramento Kings

What a bloody mess Sacramento is. Seriously, these are the players you thought where suited to play alongside Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins?

  • Marcus Thornton – limited defender/rebounder who needs beaucoup amount of shot attempts
  • John Salmons – limited defender/rebounder at small forward who needs beaucoup amount of shot attempts
  • Chuck Hayes – a strong defender/rebounder who cannot shoot provide and hence is unable to provide proper spacing for Cousins in the post + Tyreke’s dribble penetration game. A solid option at backup PF but a bad fit on this roster as a starter.
  • JJ Hickson – again, the lack of a jump-shot. A jump-shot is a per-requisite for any power forward alongside a developing Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins. Maybe it won’t be down the road but it absolutely is right now.

This team has far too many players who judge themselves by how well they put the ball in the basketball and far too few players who can impact the game without scoring the basketball.

This is a highly unbalanced team and it’s shocking to me that Sacramento even did this in the first place.

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