NBA Roundtable

Power Rankings

In General NBA on April 27, 2012 at 2:56 am

Late Season Rankings for 2011/12

Okay, so here we are at the end of this rushed regular season and getting ready for the playoffs. I thought it was time for a quick run down (or update) of where each stands in their respective conference.

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

Large concerns over the health of superstar Derrick Rose and backcourt mate Rip Hamilton heading into the playoffs. Add in a banged up Luol Deng and the Bulls problems in matching up against the Heat and it is not a comfortable picture for Chicago.

They’ll need to be at full strength to knock off Miami.

#3 — Boston Celtics

A second half surprise … the Boston Celtics have surged up the standings and are looking like a genuine (if second tier) title contender.

Avery Bradley has been phenomenal of late. His defense has been well above average and at times stellar. His offensive impact has rarely been prolific but it has been uber-efficient and within the flow of the offense. His influx of athleticism and energy to the starting unit has boosted this old team and given them a real edge (toughness, physical quickness).

Greg Stiemsma has also been a pleasant surprise. I have liked him since the start of the year as a medium term project but he has advanced far quicker than I ever thought. I had expected him to take another year to reach where is right now and that is a well above average backup center. Fantastic shot-blocker. Solid defender outside of that. Decent rebounder. Good midrange jump-shooter. A very nice addition for Boston and someone they’ll need to lock up in the summer.

There are some concerns about Ray Allen’s health heading into the post-season. Hopefully, Ray can get it together and give Boston a boost off the bench. A Ray + Pietrus combo off the bench gives Boston tremendous depth on the wing.

With all this said and I haven’t even got to mention Garnett, Rondo or Pierce yet. Garnett has been tremendous since the All-Star break. One of the finest big men in the league. Rondo just led the league in assists and is one of the finest PGs in the league. Pierce has taken another step back again this season but still remains a potent force at small forward (top 5 SF).

#4 — Philadelphia 76ers

I read that Phily started the year 18-7 and went 11-20 after that and have finished the regular season in dodgy form.

For a while there, Phily were reminding me of the Detroit Pistons prior to acquiring Rasheed Wallace. I am not sure I can stand by that but their mix of talent still intrigues me and I do not think they are far away from becoming a legitimate title contender.

#5 — New York Knicks

Injuries and poor coaching have really held back New York this season.

Their talent level is good with star talent with the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Then they have the young upstart Jeremy Lin. A few quality rotation pieces like Landry Fields, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert. Serviceable pieces filling out most of the other spots in Baron Davis, Jared Jeffries and Steve Novak.

Mike Woodson has had a great impact since replacing Mike D’Antoni with the Knicks going 16-6 since then. They are more disciplined defensively and finally playing to Carmelo’s strengths offensively. This is a team that could make noise next year.

Unfortunately, for this season, injuries have doomed them. Hard to see them getting out of the first round.

#6 — Atlanta Hawks

A tough first round matchup against the Boston Celtics and the Hawks look set to play either without Al Horford or with a severely limited Al Horford. Not a good place to be.

The Hawks and Celtics have had a few tough contests against one another over the last few weeks but it’s always looked like the Celtics had another gear to go to whenever they needed to. I don’t think Atlanta has enough weapons to take them out.

A big summer ahead for their GM Rick Sund. Biggest decision will be whether to keep this core together or whether to shake things up. He has been very patient in the past but I am getting the feeling that that patience is running out. I wonder if the injury to Al Horford is enough to get them a temporary reprieve.

#7 — Indiana Pacers

The Pacers have done great this year. Fifth best record in the league and they have done it without ever hitting on all cylinders.

Danny Granger has struggled offensively throughout most of the season as has big summer signing David West. Roy Hibbert continues to make gradual improvements but is still not a major force. Paul George has become a very steady player for Indiana but has been passive offensively. Darren Collison has scored the ball reasonably well but I haven’t liked how he has run the team.

The coach has done great things in terms of wins and losses but I hate how this team is playing offensively. George Hill has been up and down. Jeff Foster had to retire due to injury and they weren’t able to replace him. Still have no quality backup wing with Dahntay Jones forced into duty. Leandro Barbosa was a nice pickup though. Tyler Hansbrough has been a disappointment.

There are good pieces here but I have never gotten the feeling that this team has truly come together. I think they’ll get found out in the playoffs. Luckily for them, they have a cakewalk in the first round with the Dwight Howard-less Orlando Magic and won’t be tested until they play Miami in the second round.

#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, maybe two, average starters and two well 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.

Hopefully we’ll see a lot of changes this summer from Orlando. One way or another.

#9 — Cleveland Cavaliers

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

A pair of other useful players on their team too in 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.

#10 — Toronto Raptors

Quite a few solid role players but they lack difference makers.

Reasons for optimism = Another year, another draft pick and some improved cap flexibility on the horizon + improved health from Bargnani next season (if his improvement is for real).

#11 — Washington Wizards

Very little help on this team for John Wall and Nene.

The shooting guard and small forward rotations have looked awful (both are the worst in the league). No backup point guard. Blatche hasn’t been able to put it together. At least Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin are looking like capable backups.

John Wall had a very disappointing sophomore campaign but I am optimistic that he will show major improvement next season after a more productive summer instead of wasting his summer playing glorified pickup games when he should be working on his fundamentals.

If that happens (Wall’s improvement) and the Wizards make a good draft pick here, say a Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, they could take a nice step forward next season and be a 30+ win (maybe even 35+ win) team next year.

#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 man-sized holes in this team.

The summer can’t get here fast enough for this team. Joe Dumars badly needs to re-make this squad after the last few difficult years. Patience is needed because a lot of work needs to be done. It’ll take time.

#13 — Milwaukee Bucks

A team that is headed for a train-wreck.

This Monta Ellis + Brandon Jennings idea was a disaster waiting to happen. Skiles is reportedly unhappy. They no longer have Bogut’s interior defense and rebounding to hide their weaknesses in those departments any more. Ilyasova is a free agent who will either be a big loss or a soon-to-be vastly overpaid returnee.

It feels like the Micheal Redd and Mo Williams starting all over again. What a waste.

(Is John Hammond too dumb to realize they need to blow this up and start again?)

#14 — New Jersey Nets

Huge summer facing the Nets.

If they can’t make a major addition to their then they are destined to lose Deron Williams.

If that happens (and it is the most likely scenario – hence the ranking), NJ will sink right down to the bottom of the East alongside the Charlotte Bobcats.

Where they land in the draft lottery very well might be the deciding factor on whether they hang onto Deron Williams or not. They need to be able to land a top three pick and then be able to trade that pick for another star talent. That would give them a potent foursome with Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Brook Lopez and Mystery Man X.

#15 — Charlotte Bobcats

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

Western Conference

#1 — Oklahoma City Thunder

The team to beat in the West. They have looked better as the year has gone on.

#2 — Memphis Grizzlies

A while back, I said that I had been too harsh on the impact of the decline of the Grizzlies bench this year vs last season. The basic point was that their starting lineup are all capable of playing huge minutes and they can thus navigate their bench effectively in a playoff series.

The Grizzlies are a title threat.

#3 — Los Angeles Lakers

I have been impressed by how well the Lakers have been able to hide their dodgy supporting cast since the acquisition of Ramon Sessions.

Sessions has allowed the Lakers to keep two foundation type players on the court at all times. By foundation players, I mean guys who can build effective and balanced lineups. The Lakers have two top post players in Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. An elite two guard in Kobe Bryant. And an effective starting PG in Sessions who can create off the dribble.

They are able to keep at least one big and one perimeter threat on the court at all times and hence limit the amount of time where they have to field weak second unit type lineups.

They have been able to work players like Ron Artest and Matt Barnes (wings) + Troy Murphy, Josh McRoberts and Jordan Hill (bigs) + Steve Blake (PG) … in and out of these lineups and field effective units throughout each minute of every contest. In essence, hiding their weak supporting cast.

The Lakers have players who are quality rebounders and some mixed value defensively but they are able to put these guys alongside creators offensively (two low post bigs, elite wing, playmaking guard) and big men who can anchor a team (offensively, defensively and rebounding wise).

So, to go back to the beginning, Ramon Sessions has had an even bigger impact than I imagine when he joined the team both because of the strength of his individual play and because of how well LA is able to balance their lineups now. Fantastic acquisition.

A season changer and LA is a legitimate title contender now.

#4 — San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs continue to surprise racking up another first place seed tied with Chicago for the best record in the NBA winning 50 out of 66 games in this shortened season.

The Spurs have done a nice job of improving their depth and size/athleticism on the wing (Danny Green, Stephen Jackson, Kawhi Leonard = big wings). However, they have failed (yet again) to find adequate support for Tim Duncan in the paint. This fatal flaw will likely be their undoing (yet again) in the playoffs.

#5 — Dallas Mavericks

A thoroughly confusing team. I don’t think they have enough weapons to mount a title challenge but they could knock anyone out in a seven game series (unlikely to be able to maintain that through four series however).

There are lingering concerns over Jason Kidd’s health heading into the playoffs. Hard to see them making any noise if he isn’t healthy enough to be his usual steadying force.

#6 — Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are getting stellar play from Chris Paul and very strong play from Blake Griffin along with serviceable play from Caron Butler, DeAndre Jordan, Mo Williams (after a hot start) and Kenyon Martin. That does not a Championship caliber team make.

The Clippers desperately need (1) DeAndre Jordan to take the next step and become a Tyson Chandler-like difference maker and turn the Clippers into a top ten defensive team (2) flesh out their supporting cast particularly on the wing.

The Clippers should be a prime title contender next season but I fear this year’s playoffs have come too soon for them.

#7 — Houston Rockets

A disappointing run of form to end the season which marked yet another failed attempt to make the playoffs.

Daryl Morey has done a nice job of collecting quality assets while maintaining good flexibility for the future but he has struggled to find high end assets while lumbering in mid-table mediocrity.

I think the Rockets will continue on this path for another 12-24 months (probably 24 months) in an effort to see whether or not they can turn these assets and that flexibility into a franchise caliber talent (or two). If not, I could see Houston tearing apart their roster and entering a full blown rebuilding plan.

#8 — Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets made a nice trade mid-season to improve their future (swapping Nene for McGee) but it has had a bad effect on their chances in the immediate sense.

Entering the playoffs, Nuggets very much look like a squad who are simply there to make up the numbers. Hard to see them being anything but a one and done team.

#9 — Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves made real progress this season. A possible playoff team next year.

It’ll be interesting to see how they tweak their squad this off-season. What happens to Beasley. Where do they look for improvements at the SG and SF positions. How much improvement do they manage to get there. And where does Derrick Williams fit in going forward. Lots of intriguing questions.

#10 — Phoenix Suns

Does Steve Nash stay or go this summer? Does Phoenix retool and make a run at the playoffs next season or blow it up and enter a full blown rebuilding process?

We’ll know soon enough.

#11 — Utah Jazz

Terrific achievement in reaching the playoffs. I am not particularly fond of this roster but they’ve done great work this past season. Should be proud.

Going forward, their future hinges on the development of Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter + finding a quality small forward to play alongside Gordon Hayward (SG) in the starting lineup.

#12 — 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. Underrated team.

#13 — Portland Trailblazers

Very disappointed to see this team broken up mid-season. They were underperforming badly for a period of time but they had good talent and quality coaching. I thought they could have been a really good team and a very tough in the playoffs.

Anyways, they’ve taken a major step back in the immediate sense but have picked up some valuable draft picks and cap flexibility and look in solid shape heading into the future.

#14 — Golden State Warriors

Fairly impressed with Mark Jackson after his rookie season. My expectations were admittedly low but I think he worked out well for the Warriors.

I loved how fluid and together the Warriors offense became under his watch + he continually stressed the right mentality on defense and rebounding + seemed to do a very good job of installing confidence in his players especially his younger players + and he did a good job in developing those players.

I think the Warriors have found themselves a good young Head Coach here with high end potential.

As for their roster, they made a huge gamble on Bogut’s health and if it works out, the Warriors should be in the playoffs next year. A good to very good squad in the making.

As for the ranking, I have no idea where to rank Golden State until I see Andrew Bogut get healthy and stay healthy. I am taking a “prove to me” stance.

#15 — Sacramento Kings

The Kings look set to make multiple bad decisions this summer

  1. Keep Geoff Petrie but fail to supply him with much needed front office help (with fresh voices)
  2. Sign Keith Smart to a multi-year contract after his horrific job in handling/developing Tyreke Evans (and this after questions raised over his handing of Steph Curry and other young players in GSW) who (K.Smart) consequently looks a bad fit on a rebuilding roster. This very much looks like a continuation of Sacramento’s inability to bring in a quality coaching staff to replace Rick Adelman. We’ve seen several failed attempts since then and I expect Keith Smart to be yet another one of those.
  3. The blame game running full tilt on Tyreke Evans and the likely trade of Evans who remains one of the most talented young guards in the league today.
  4. The over-confidence in the abilities of Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton and Jason Thompson and the misunderstanding of their value to the franchise going forward.

It’s not all bad news though. They have a high lottery pick in a good draft and should pickup a very good player there.

State of the NBA

Eastern Conference

  • Titles caliber teams – Miami and Chicago
  • Outside contender – Boston
  • Very good teams – Philadelphia and New York
  • Good teams – Indiana, Atlanta, Orlando
  • Decent but below average teams – Cleveland, New Jersey
  • Very weak teams – Charlotte, Detroit, Milwaukee, Toronto and Washington

Western Conference

  • Title caliber teams – Oklahoma, Memphis and the LA Lakers
  • Outside contender – Dallas and San Antonio
  • Very good teams – LA Clippers
  • Good teams – Houston, Denver
  • Average teams – Utah, Phoenix, Minnesota
  • Decent but below average teams – Portland and New Orleans
  • Very poor teams – Sacramento
  • Undetermined – Golden State (due to health)

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