By Ron Jumper
With just under a week until the NBA kicks off, I wanted to give the betting public a preview of each team by offering my Power Rankings. The NBA once again had a busy off-season, with moves all over the place that I must address. How will Ron Artest fit in with the Los Angeles Lakers? Does Rasheed Wallace put the Celtics right back into title contention? What should we expect from Shaq and LeBron? Does Vince Carter make the Magic better or worse? I went through all those questions and still haven’t even mentioned the Spurs, who always seem to fly under the radar. Where do the Spurs fall in my power rankings? You’ll have to read and see…
With these rankings, it is important to understand the meaning behind them. In the West, the Lakers are the top team but, after that, there is a seven-team cluster that could make their case for being an elite team in the Western Conference. I have 8 of the top 13 teams from the West. Over to the East, they have three elite teams: Celtics, Magic, and Cavs. After that, the Atlanta Hawks are not quite “elite” but they are clearly better than the rest of the Eastern Conference. Then it gets difficult, teams 5 through 10 are very close and could all make or miss the playoffs. The reason I want to clarify this is because a team could be lower in the rankings then some would like, but it doesn’t mean I’m down on them. For instance, I have the Raptors ranked 19th because they are the 10th team in the East but, because teams 5 to 10 in the East are so close, I don’t look at them as that far behind the Bulls (ranked 12th overall). So chill out Raptor fans, crazy Canadians…
NBA Power Rankings:
1. Boston Celtics
Last season didn’t go as planned, with Kevin Garnett being injured and an early playoff exit thanks to the Orlando Magic. (By the way, I loved every second of the Magic upsetting the Celtics in the playoffs last season because I got so much heat for taking the Magic to upset the Celtics from fellow colleagues. I still have a warm place in my heart for Orlando. I won’t forget you…) Back to this season’s Celtics, I don’t think the addition of Rasheed Wallace has received enough attention but that is the best move they could have possibly made. How else could they get better without giving up one of the “Big Three” or going over the salary cap? Look at that starting five: PG Rajon Rondo, SG Ray Allen, SF Paul Pierce, PF Kevin Garnett, C Rasheed Wallace. That is nasty, simply no other way to put it.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
The question is simple and, after 20 games or so, we should be close to knowing the answer. How will Artest fit in with Lakers? For me, I played in the triangle offense in college, I know both how complex it is to learn and how only certain players can thrive in that kind of offense. Artest is not a great outside shooter nor is he a great passer. Those are the two main ingredients if you are going to excel in the triangle. That is why I give the edge to Boston as the best team in the league. The Lakers are still the best team in the West but that may not translate to another championship ring.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Shhhh!! Don’t tell anyone! The Spurs are still really good and they got a lot better this off-season. They brought in Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess, plus drafted DeJuan Blair. They will be very good if Manu and Timmy stay healthy.
4. Orlando Magic
Obviously, I don’t have the Magic projected to make the NBA Finals again. However, I still like this team. The thing is that they will not be the same team from last season. They used to be a matchup nightmare by spreading the floor with four shooters and Howard. Now, this team has arguably the deepest squad 1-12 of any team in the league but it is a more traditional lineup. Vince Carter is a bigger “star” but they will have to endure the 15-20 games a year he takes off and shoots jumpshots. Fortunately, for the first time in VC’s career, he has other guys that can pick up the slack in Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, and Jameer Nelson. Expect the Magic to be different, but still very good. Brandon Bass was a steal.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs are the latest team to try out the Shaq experiment, sometimes it works (Miami) and sometimes it doesn’t (Phoenix). With LeBron James and the rest of the Cavs, they won’t be below 60 wins regardless. The question is can Shaq get them over the hump in the playoffs? I say no…
6. Portland Trail Blazers
I love teams that don’t change up the roster much, especially young teams. This bunch has had time to develop continuity and, in my mind, is capable of hanging with the big boys night in and night out. Andre Miller is a warrior and will help this basketball team. I have said for years that Andre Miller was the most underrated player in the NBA. The 76ers teams that he led to the playoffs were terrible before he got there and they had guys like Allen Iverson and Chris Webber on the roster. To simplify, those 76er teams lost 2 future Hall of Famers and added Miller, yet somehow got better. You do the math.
7. Utah Jazz
The simple truth to the Jazz is two-fold, staying healthy and staying under the salary cap. They have decisions to make whether or not to keep guys like Ronnie Brewer and, if they decide to clear salary cap, this ranking will drop. If not, and they can stay relatively healthy, this is a very good basketball team.
8. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets had a perfect season last year, can they really keep that pace up again this season? I like them to be good but I am curious if Nene can stay healthy and J.R. Smith can stay in the good graces of the coaching staff. Either way, they will hover around 50 wins or so.
9. Atlanta Hawks
I love this roster from top to bottom. From drafting Jeff Teague to picking up unheralded banger Jason Collins. I don’t like Jamal Crawford and, over time, expect him to work his way out of the rotation and be moved somewhere else. Regardless, they are deeper and better than last season, as well as having more playoff experience.
10. Phoenix Suns
This is a new look Suns that hopes to get back to the good old days of running and gunning. They still have Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Jason Richardson, and Grant Hill. I love the additions of Channing Frye and Earl Clark.
11. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs got better, I do believe so. None the less, they still have the same problems. They don’t have an inside presence and Kidd will struggle to defend elite point guards. I also am curious how Josh Howard and Shawn Marion will coexist, as they seem to play a similar role. Then, to go even further, I wonder what lineup the Mavs will go to, as I’m not sure how you can have Howard, Marion, and Nowitzki on the floor at the same time without playing Dirk at the five and going small.
12. Chicago Bulls
Simply put, this team made some great moves last season and now they have had the opportunity to go through training camp together and develop chemistry. I’m expecting good things from this Bulls squad.
13. New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets are a very good team, despite being ranked this low. I like the addition of Emeka Okafor, who should have a career year. However, it is hard to see them making noise in the postseason without adding more fire power.
14. Washington Wizards
This is the wildcard of my power rankings, as they have so much talent from top to bottom. Arenas could finally be healthy again, they got Randy Foye and Mike Miller at a bargain rate. Watch out for this club.
15. Philadelphia 76ers
I think they will miss Andre Miller, so it will be interesting to see how Lou Williams develops this season. I also want to see how they use Elton Brand. They have Dalembert at the 5, Brand at the 4, then don’t forget Thaddeus Young and the other AI. The problem I have is can they be successful with all those guys on the floor at the same time? Can they run with that lineup? Is that enough outside shooting to keep the floor balanced?
16. Detroit Pistons
No team overhauled their roster more than the Pistons. One thing that I believe will help is that team captain Richard Hamilton and new guys Ben Gordon and Charlie V all played at UConn. They like each other, they want to play together. Trust me, that matters.
17. Golden State Warriors
This is the same Warriors team, plenty of scoring and no defense. Also, not quite sure how Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis will co-exist.
18. Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade will keep them competitive but they lack the talent to consistently win games.
19. Toronto Raptors
The addition of Hedu Turkoglu is nice, as he fits the international flavor. However, can this team defend?
20. Houston Rockets
This team took a serious hit, whether or not they are competitive may depend on Aaron Brooks and Trevor Ariza.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder
This is my favorite team in the league, though they are one more year away from being a playoff team. James Harden was just another good draft pick by GM Sam Presti.
22. Indiana Pacers
Danny Granger has emerged as a stud, though I always knew he would be out of New Mexico. Reports suggest Roy Hibbert is vastly improved and I expect Tyler Hansbrough to become a fan favorite.
23. Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin appears poised to be the next Karl Malone. If Baron Davis is healthy/happy and the young guns (Eric Gordon and Al Thornton) keep developing, this team should be fun to watch.
24. Charlotte Bobcats
Not expecting good things in Charlotte this season. They still haven’t settled point guard situation, as I doubt this team can ever thrive with both Felton and Augustin on the roster.
25. New Jersey Nets
I have to say I like this young roster more than any other bottom dweller. Devin Harris is a stud and Brook Lopez could be on his way to being a top center in the league. Not to mention, guys like Courtney Lee and Terrence Williams could be nice players as well some day.
26. Memphis Grizzlies
On paper, this team is actually very talented but I don’t think they can get this jumbled up bunch of scorers to play together or play defense.
27. New York Knicks
Still not a quality team, they pushed their chips all in for this off-season’s free agent sweepstakes.
28. Sacramento Kings
Not a fan of where the Kings are going, they could have gotten more out of the draft and I don’t know if Tyreke Evans and Kevin Martin will play well together.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves
This is a team that could have gotten better, stop to think about it. They were playing a little better prior to Al Jefferson going down, then they trade last year’s starting backcourt (Randy Foye and Mike Miller) for Ricky Rubio. Then they draft Johnny Flynn and go out and sign Ramon Sessions. What if they had kept Foye and Miller, then drafted a big man like Jordan Hill or a nice swingman like DeMar DeRozan? Wouldn’t that have been better? They still could have signed Ramon Sessions or maybe then not have traded Ty Lawson, whom they drafted with the 18th pick in the draft. This was the deepest class of point guards arguably in the history of the NBA draft and you draft two in the top 6 when you still have picks 18 and 28 in the first round? I’ll never understand what is going on in Minnesota. I like Kurt Rambis and wish him the best, but it is going to be a long, dark road to relevance in the Western Conference.
30. Milwaukee Bucks
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to present this year’s “We don’t even care, we just want to save money and collect ping pong balls” team! Truthfully, I wouldn’t even be surprised if they moved Michael Redd or Andrew Bogut by February.