Power Rankings: Sorting Out the Contenders, Pretenders, and Tankers in the NBA

With the Brandon Jennings signing, free agency is essentially over in the NBA this summer, and all the teams’ rosters are set. So that means that it is time for me to preview the NBA’s upcoming season to find out if any teams can compete with the Heat. (Ok, yeah, maybe it’s a little early, but I am just SO EXCITED for the NBA this year. A lot of that has to do with the Sixers just plain ol’ sucking this year.) I will rank the teams from 1-30, and divide them into groups as I go. Because, while power rankins are totally useless, they are REALLY FREAKING FUN. Let’s go.

Group 1: the Heat are Better Than You

1. Miami Heat.

Lebron James. ‘Nuff said.

But seriously, it will take something special to knock the KING off of his throne this year, individually and collectively. BTW, Lebron is the GOAT (which for those of you that don’t know, means Greatest of All Time. Yes, better than Jordan. But that’s a post for another time, most likely r tomorrow.)

Group 2: the Contenders

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

This was actually the spot that took me the longest to decide. There is no clear 2nd best team after the Heat. The Rockets, Spurs, Nets, Bulls, Pacers, and Clippers (and maybe even the Grizzles) all have some argument to some degree. But, in the end, I’m betting on the Thunder’s two best players over everyone else’s. I’ll take Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook, two surefire top-10 players in the league, over the Spurs Tony Parker and Tim Duncan; over the Clips’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin; over the Bulls’ Derrick Rose coming off knee surgery and Joakim Noah/Luol Deng; over the Nets’ stacked starting five (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnet, and Brook Lopez; and, most importantly, over the Rockets’ James Harden and Dwight Howard. Durant is the best scorer in the league, and Westbrook the best point guard after Paul and a healthy Rose. Serge Ibaka is a top-10 defender. But, they do have a limited bench. However, I’ll take KD and the underrated Westbrook as the next to the throne.

3. Houston Rockets

If Dwight Howard returns to anything close to his prime form, the Rockets are an easy 2. They have two of the 10 best players in the league while combining it with a stellar supporting cast (Omer Asik and Chandler Parsons among others). They have a legit shot at overturning the Heat with a healthy Howard. This leads us to an interesting “What if the Thunder didn’t trade James Harden” tangent, but that’s one for another time, maybe after the season.

4. San Antonio Spurs

I’ll take the Spurs’ absurd consistency over the rest of the Contenders. Duncan just isn’t slowing down, and Parker, at least up until the Finals, was the most underrated player in the league. Combine that with the genius Gregg Popovitch and a great bench, and you have a Contender.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

Until Derrick Rose proves himself again, Chris Paul is the third best player in the league. And the Clips made some astute deals over the summer, acquiring some outside shooting in J.J. Reddick and Jared Dudley. The big question remains whether they can win with their frontcourt of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. This frontcourt is nowhere near as good as the hype; Jordan is just not very good (although he does crazy stuff like this) and Griffin has strangely seen a decline in his numbers from a superstar level to just a good level even though he is only 24.

6. Indiana Pacers

They did take the Heat to 7 games two years in a row. They are solid everywhere. They have a great frontcourt. Paul George is a do-it-all star, although I don’t want him as my 1st option on offense. You know what you get with them: solid. Maybe Danny Granger’s return can catapult them past their rivals from South Beach this year.

7. Chicago Bulls

I’ll take Derrick Rose over the Nets here. While he may not be at his best, he will be very good, up in the conversation as a top five point guard. And they have a great supporting cast, from interior players like Joakim Noah, to quality wings like Jimmy Butler and Juol Deng. And they have one of the five best coaches in the league in Tom Thibodeau.

8. Brooklyn Nets

They are old, but they are good. Even their bench is decent: Andrei Kirilenko, Andray Blatche, Jason Terry, Reggie Evans. And playing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett playing limited minutes will help them come playoff time. And the have Jay-Z. But I just have a gut feeling about them that they will underwhelm. Check back in 9 months.

9. Memphis Grizzles

Everyone’s Second Favorite Team (maybe? Actually I don’t know..) retains its solid core while adding some desperately needed outside shooting in Mike Miller. If he can stay healthy, we could see them back in the Western Conference Finals. And who doesn’t love Marc Gasol?

Group 3: Semi-Contenders

10. Golden State Warriors

They have a legitimate claim to be in the above group. They have a stellar backcourt, can shoot the lights out, have decent post players, and made an astute signing in Andre Iguodala (who I can’t stand, but is a good fit for the Dubs). But I think they might be a little young this year. Give one more year to guys like Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, and Golden State will have a Contender next year.

11. New York Knicks

They still have Carmelo. He can score. A lot. Even though they made one of the strangest trades of the offseason, acquiring the infamous Andrea Bargnani (a 7-foot big man who gets 3.7 rebounds a game!!!), they still have a decent core in Carmelo, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith (who along with Metta World Peace will form the most entertaining teammate duo of next season) and Iman Shumpert. Although they still have to deal with Amar’e Stoudemire’s hideous contract.

12. Detroit Pistons

I covered them at greater length here. Basically, they will be the least disciplined, worst shooting, craziest athletic team in the league, making them the most entertaining. #BricksOnBricks

Group 4: Pretenders

13. Portland Trailblaziers

I really liked Portland’s offseason. They had a stellar draft, acquiring the guy I thought the Sixers should take at 11, guard C.J. McCollum, at 10. They have two semi-stars in Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge. They have a good supporting cast. Pencil them in as a playoff team.

14. Atlanta Hawks

While they lost their best player in Josh Smith, the Hawks made arguably the signing of the summer, getting Paul Milsap to agree to a 2 year, $19 million deal, way below market value. They retained a key role player in Kyle Korver, retained their starting point guard in Jeff Teague, and will get key bench scorer Lou Williams back from injury. They will sneak into a playoff spot in the East.

15. Washington Wizards

After drafting well the past 5 seasons, the Wizards may finally have a decent core. John Wall, Bradley Beal, and 3rd pick Otto Porter Jr. are all homegrown talents. Add them to Nene and Emeka Okafor, and that’s a decent starting 5. If Wall can fulfill his potential and become a star, expect them to contend in future seasons.

16. New Orleans Pelicans

I would love to put NOLA lower, because the Sixers hold their first round pick. But they have too much talent to not make the playoffs. Jrue Holiday will continue his very good point guard play, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans will score, and Ryan Anderson will shoot the lights out. If Anthony Davis, last year’s 1st pick, takes another step, they could be an excellent team and get a 5 or 6 seed (NOT LIKELY). But they also could flame out spectacularly, giving the Sixers a top 10 pick next year (MUCH MORE LIKELY). I split the difference and put them 8th, but let’s hope I’m wrong.

17. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs have a lot of potential to move up this list. In fact, if they weren’t so injury prone, In would have them around 9 or 10. But star point guard Kyrie Irving or dependable big Anderson Varejao can’t stay healthy. They have a ton of talent, and Irving is the real deal. Stay tuned.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves.

I’ve always wanted the Wolves to do well. Now I want them to do bad so Kevin Love definitely leaves and joins the Sixers next season. Like the Cavs, they have talent, but are too often injured. If they want to make the playoffs, Ricky Rubio will have to take a big step up.

19. Denver Nuggets

Another team with moving potential. They really could make me look like a fool and capture a 5 seed in the West. But I don’t see it. They lost their best defender, Iguodala, to Golden State, strengthening a rival in the process, and their best scorer, Danilo Galinari, is injured to start the season. And they have a first-year head coach in Brian Shaw. Too many subtractions from last year’s decent squad.

20. Los Angeles Lakers

Another team with vast moving potential. This is basically the Kobe Factor. If it wasn’t for him, the Lakers would be in the bottom 5 easily. But if he comes back healthy, Steve Nash can stay injury-free, and Pau Gasol has a comeback year, they will get an 8 seed. But it may be ugly in Los Angeles. (Side note: Nick “Swaggy P” Young, with the Sixers last season signed with the Lakers this offseason. Seeing him, the most casual gunner basketball has ever seen, play with Kobe, the most competitive athlete since MJ, will be hysterical. I can see Swaggy missing a fadeaway three, laughing his butt off about it, and Kobe punching him in the face).

Group 5: Normal Bad

21. Dallas Mavericks

They have Dirk, so they are ahead of Toronto. They will be bad. But let’s go Dirk!

22. Toronto Raptors

They somehow convinced the Knicks to take Andrea Bargnani off of their hands, but they still suck. Expect a lot of missed Rudy Gay jumpers.

Group 6: Tank Bad

23. Boston Celtics

One of the proudest, most successful franchises in basketball just traded their two most important players to a division rival. If that is not tanking, I don’t know what is. expect them to be better than the Sixers, though, because they still have Rajon Rondo.

24. Utah Jazz

In order to acquire 2 draft picks from Golden State, the Jazz took on two zombies, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins, worth a total of $24 million. In other words, TANK. They have a decent young core, though (Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors), which will make them better than the Sixers.

25. Charlotte Bobcats

The Bobcats, run by Michael Jordan, pulled off the strangest deal of the summer: signing decent power forward Al Jefferson to a 3 year, $40.5 million deal. This ball hogging, no-defense playing big will prevent the Bobcats from being as bad as the Sixers, which isn’t a good thing for Charlotte: they could desperately use the top pick in the draft. Instead, Jefferson will dominate the ball while not helping to develop the Cats’ young talent.

Group 7: REALLY Tank Bad

27. Sacramento Kings

The NBA’s most dysfunctional franchise will suck again this year. But in more exciting news, #BoogieWatch, a regular update on Demarcus “Boogie” Cousins, will be on Peter Taylor Plays the Jazz Flute. Get ready for some bad basketball.

Tied for 28. Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns

Yeah, I took a cop out. They will both suck. They are just both definitely better than the Sixers.

And, last but not least…

Group 8: All-time Bad

30. Sixers

Yes, we have a chance of being the worst team ever. Yeah! I hope we are, because then we clinch the first pick in the draft next year. I’m nervous that in my zeal that the Sixers get the 1st pick, I overrated their badness. Let’s hope I’m right.

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