The beginning of the NBA training camps is a good opportunity to sort out the strong from the weak, and especially the playoff teams from the lottery ones, as our preseason power rankings suggest that the Miami Heat winning the East, despite the Pacers and Bulls, while the San Antonio Spurs claiming the West despite the Grizzlies, Clippers, Rockets and Thunder, isn’t going to be very surprising.
1. Miami Heat – The NBA champions haven’t made big additions to their roster, with Greg Oden and Michael Beasley being the only names currently joining. However, if Wade and Bosh are healthy and those minimum contract deals work out one more time for them, it’s hard seeing anyone being good enough to take the Heat and especially LeBron James in a 7-game series.
2. Indiana Pacers – Did everything right this offseason, plus got Danny Granger back from injury. Paul George might turn into a superstar, while Roy Hibbert should be one of the best centers in the NBA. Adding Luis Scola to finally give this team some scoring off the bench make them the biggest threat to the Heat.
3. Chicago Bulls – The big IF of the season, but if Rose is back and playing like more than just your average NBA point guard, the Bulls should be one of the top two contenders for the Eastern crown, with an upgraded bench compared to last season, and an even better than before Jimmy Butler.
4. Brooklyn Nets – Going expensive and old is good for a regular season record; their bench, with whatever deal was cut to bring Andrei Kirilenko and the addition of Jason Terry is a big one. But more than conference semifinals? Hard to believe.
5. New York Knicks – The Andrea Bargnani addition brings on another player with offense and no defense to a team that has plenty of those. The Knicks are limited, and will be worst on defense than last year, meaning we won’t see them improving.
6. Atlanta Hawks – Despite Josh Smith leaving, the Hawks got the right player in Paul Millsap to fill in the power forward spot, and Jeff Teague should continue to develop, keeping the Hawks as a first-round playoff team.
7. Detroit Pistons – It’s going to be difficult spreading the floor with the Drummond-Smith-Monroe frontcourt, but the Pistons brought in better talent than they had before in Brandon Jennings, and Caldwell-Pope will provide some much needed shooting to take them into the postseason for the first time since 2009.
8. Washington Wizards – An uninjured John Wall is the real deal, but not a maximum contract player. If they can get over Emeka Okafor missing games, the improvement of Bradley Beal and the drafting of Otto Porter should put them back in the top 8.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers – Will realize that drafting Anthony Bennett was a huge mistake; one that will probably cost them enough wins to finish outside the playoff line once again, and push Kyrie Iriving to think about leaving.
10. Toronto Raptors – Didn’t improve by much compared to last season, but with Rudy Gay on board for the entire year, they should look more competitive for the entire season, especially if Jonas Valančiūnas continues to develop as expected.
11. Milwaukee Bucks – Have some good players to defend the basket and the perimeter, but losing both Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings will be too much to overcome with O.J. Mayo and Caron Butler.
12. Charlotte Bobcats – The addition of Al Jefferson makes the Bobcats, potentially, a 30-win team for the first time in quite a while.
13. Boston Celtics – Will be one of the three-four worst teams in the league while Rajon Rondo is injured, and not much better after he returns.
14. Orlando Magic – Victor Oladipo should help them look better in the backcourt, but it’s going to take a while for the Magic to come back from the Dwight Howard fallout.
15. Philadelphia 76ers – The number one candidate in the riggin’ for Wiggins contest.
1. San Antonio Spurs – Kawhi Leonard will continue to improve, and as long as Tony Parker doesn’t show signs of getting old, the Spurs look like the best team (by a small margin) in the West.
2. Memphis Grizzlies – The bench is still a big problem, but the Grizzlies have the best defensive team in the conference, and hopefully the arrival of Mike Miller can bring them the outside shooting they needed, while contract years might boost someone like Zach Randolph to his Clippers & Thunder series level.
3. Los Angeles Clippers – Injuries to Chris Paul will be catastrophic, but with him healthy, this team is probably the deepest in the conference, and probably with better shooting options than in the past due to the Redick and Dudley arrivals.
4. Houston Rockets – This is the high-risk pick of the West at this point, but if you believe that Dwight Howard is better than what the Lakers turned him into, the Rockets are headed for a 53-55 win season.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder – The Russell Westbrook injury is going to hurt them for five weeks, but even with him, they still don’t have a backup point guard, a center who can score or that sixth man who can make shots from the outside.
6. Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry not being able to miss isn’t a fluke, and Andre Iguodala should make them much better defensively on the perimeter, something of a weakness for them in certain lineups.
7. Portland Trail Blazers – Had one of the best starting fives in the league last season. This year? A bench, with Mo Williams and C.J. McCollum providing a lot of scoring off of it; enough to be back in the playoffs.
8. Denver Nuggets – Won’t be the same team they were with George Karl, but still have a very deep team, giving JaVale McGee and Even Fournier more minutes this season will help keep them among the top 8.
9. Dallas Mavericks – Another misleading offseason with plenty of additions, but not enough to make them contenders again. Probably a lot closer to the playoffs than last season, but there’s not much to rely on beyond Dirk Nowitzki once again.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves – The most injury-prone team in the NBA is hoping that for once, the Love-Rubio connection can stay healthy for the entire season. With a strong Nikola Pekovic not missing too many games as well, they should make a run at the last playoff spot.
11. New Orleans Pelicans – Despite the awful name, should look better this season with Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and a better Eric Gordon, although still not good enough to be a force in the West.
12. Los Angeles Lakers – A rough season for the Lakers, who have no defense, a very weak bench and simply not a lot more than a Kobe Bryant who is recovering from an Achilles Tendon tear.
13. Sacramento Kings – Will be slightly better on defense, and probably a little less selfish on offense. Still not enough to be a playoff team.
14. Utah Jazz – Sending away your two best big men while adding a point guard who doesn’t look like a sure thing coming out of college isn’t a way to remain a borderline postseason team.
15. Phoenix Suns – Rigging for Wiggins as well.