NBA Preseason Reverse Power Rankings (11-15)
15. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers may be the hardest team in the league to predict this coming season, and that’s without them being rumored to be chasing any big name free-agents, as is the case with the rest of the unpredictable NBA teams. Their starting five should look very similar to last year’s, with early rumors pointing to last year’s second overall pick Evan Turner moving in alongside Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala and former all-star, Elton Brand. It will be interesting to see how this team plays for Doug Collins, who was the runner-up for NBA’s coach of the year last season, when he was largely credited for the Sixers overachieving after a slow start. However, with a lockout shortened season, if these young Sixers come out of the gates slowly again, it will be very tough to bounce back.
Note: Now matter how well the Sixers play this season, nothing can make up for the atrocity of any of these three potential team mascots: http://www.nba.com/sixers/mascotfanvote.html
14. Houston Rockets
I’m expecting big things from the Rockets this year, mostly because the excuses for missing the playoffs last year are all gone, and it is now time to perform. Despite having to adjust to new coach Kevin McHale, the core of this team remains largely the same and roles should be more firmly established from day 1. While the Rockets were bogged down with the false hope of a Yao Ming return last year, and Aaron Brooks had to battle off Kyle Lowry for the starting point guard spot, the team got off to a slow start. Now, with Lowry as the unquestioned starter, the team will be able to jell from the very beginning. Kevin Martin and Luis Scola are also above average players at their position, and the Rockets boast one of the strongest benches in the league. They will have to make the center and small forward positions a priority in this shortened offseason, but this is definitely a team on the rise in the post-Yao era.
Note: This is a big off-season for backup guard Courtney Lee, who has been traded in every prior offseason of his young career. If he remains with the team, it will be his first time on the same team for two consecutive seasons.
13. Los Angeles Clippers
A lazier sports writer would just write two things for the Clippers and be satisfied with that. 1) Blake Griffin and 2) Minnesota’s unprotected 2012 lottery pick. So, essentially, no matter what the Clippers do, they win. Expect restricted free-agent center DeAndre Jordan to be back and huge as ever, and Eric Gordon should continue to be an explosive scorer as he quietly grows into one of the top young shooting guards in the league. But at the end of the day, this is all about Blake Griffin. He may be able to jump over cars and intern for comedy websites, but he needs to keep on growing as a leader of this Clippers team. He had one of the most impressive seasons of any rookie we’ve seen in the last 20 years and it doesn’t look like there is any chance of being bogged down by the sophomore slump.
12. Atlanta Hawks
Despite Larry Drew’s promotion to head coach last year, the script has been the same for Hawks for years, and until some changes occur, that will remain the case. Every year they just get by in the season, look impressive in the first round before bowing out in the second. Most teams would kill for that second round glory, but the Hawks should look to improve upon past success, and I think they need to make a move to do that. But, assuming they stand pat, Joe Johnson is still a top-tier shooting guard, despite his contract, Josh Smith is one of the league’s most talented players, and Al Horford is a top center. If they can put it all together, they could be a top team. It will probably take some more strong role players off the bench first however, and as currently constructed, the second round appears to be this team’s ceiling.
11. Orlando Magic
Like the Hornets, the Magic are impossible to predict. However, they are so much higher on the rankings, because they are a far better team assuming Dwight Howard is there for at least part of the season. Not only is Howard the league’s top center, but unless he is getting technical fouls, he simply will not miss games for injury. He has missed 7 games his entire career, and will average around 20 points to go with his 13 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. He is obviously an exceptional player, but with questions about how he will play and drama that will surround the team, the other players must step up. Jameer Nelson will continue to overachieve and hopefully veterans Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas can contribute something this year after being brought in mid-season last year. Expect for this team to be very busy one way or another during the off-season, and if Howard is not gone by then, this is another team that will only be caught up in trade talk until a move is actually made.
NBA Preseason Reverse Power Rankings (16-20)
20. Golden State Warriors
New Warriors coach Mark Jackson has spent a lot of time talking about how improved his team will be, and, despite that confidence, I find it hard to believe that we’re looking at a playoff team here. Rumors about Monta Ellis being traded will continue to bog down this team until he is actually traded and Stephen Curry is handed the full reigns. 2/3 of the new frontcourt of David Lee and Dorell Wright were a step in the right direction, but Andris Biedrins must become the player he once appeared to be. The Warriors quietly saw a big improvement in their record last year in finishing with 36 wins and the lockout should benefit this young team, but until they make adjustments to their lilliputian backcourt, they don’t stand a chance. Mark Jackson will just be preaching defense to a team that has no interest.
19. Indiana Pacers
I don’t know how this team got into the playoffs last year, but I fully expect them to rejoin the lottery where they belong next year. Danny Granger just has to carry too much of the offensive load, as he averaged 7 more points than the next two leading scorers, Darren Collison and Roy Hibbert. This team has a collection of nice role players, such as new backup point guard and Indiana native George Hill, UNC star Tyler Hansbrough, and Paul George who proved to be a shutdown defender in the playoffs last year against the Bulls. However, while many think that series is an indication of success to come, I would attribute that more to a Bulls team just not taking the Pacers seriously. Barring some big help in free agency, I don’t think most teams will need to be too worried about the Pacers.
18. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks followed up their “Fear the Deer” playoff campaign two years ago with a dud of a season last year, winning only 35 games. This year, their success or failure will be dependent on the health of Andrew Bogut, the maturity of Jennings, and the ability of the team to integrate newcomer Stephen Jackson into the team. The Bucks traded their top-ten pick from last year in order to improve the team now, so look for a refreshed energy and desire to win this year. Jennings must learn to play with more discipline at the point guard position after averaging as many 3 point attempts per game as he did assists (4.8). With the addition of more offensive players, such as Jackson and Beno Udrih, Jennings will not have to shoulder as much of the scoring load, and we should see an improvement in both team demeanor and wins this year.
Note: When I say wins, I mean win percentage. Obviously with only 66 games this year, they will not have the same chances to win as many. That goes without saying, but I said it anyway.
17. New Orleans Hornets
After looking like a legitimate playoff team last season in the first round against the Lakers, this looks like the year the Hornets will finally start putting it together again and become a consistent threat in the West. That is what I’d be saying if they had more than five players under contract to start training camp on Friday, but they don’t. The Hornets will be impossible to predict this year, simply because there are so many unknowns about them. Obviously the most important factor here is Chris Paul and where he ends up, but don’t expect to hear about anything other than him being traded or where he’ll sign. David West will probably be gone, and depending on free-agency and trades, the only sure players right now appear to be Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, and Jarrett Jack. Stay tuned for more on the Hornets as the Chris Paul rumors continue to trickle in, and it should only be a matter of time until he is traded.
16. Denver Nuggets
Like the Hornets, the Nuggets are clouded by uncertainty, and their roster as currently constructed should in no way resemble what we see on opening day. In this professional’s opinion, we have seen Nene play his last game in powder blue, and with Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler, and JR Smith playing in China, this team’s core has been decimated. Andre Miller is back after being traded away years ago and he will play mentor to young point guard Ty Lawson. We should also expect big contributions from Danilo Gallinari, as he continues to pose like an Italian fashion model every time he flops while driving to the basket. Tenacious rookie Kenneth Faried may have to take on a bigger role than expected this year and the Birdman, Chris Andersen, should enter training camp with his body entirely covered with tattoos. While I try to remain optimistic about the Nuggets chances, like the Hornets, there are simply too many questions as to who will even be on the team by the time the season starts to predict anything about the team.
Note: The Nuggets have a Nigerian rookie named Chukwudiebere Maduabum. Here is the way to pronounce that name: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTMTd4LW8J4
NBA Preseason Reverse Power Rankings (21-25)
25. Sacramento Kings
The Kings roster, as currently constructed, will either make management look brilliant or brainless, but definitely not somewhere in between. Health and maturity permitting, the Kings have a solid young duo of the future in Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, but questions still abound on this roster. Is Evans a point guard? How will he play with the enigmatic Jimmer Fredette? And where does now restricted free-agent guard Marcus Thornton fit in with all this, after averaging 21 points with the Kings last season in 27 games? As soon as they solve those simple questions, they should be well on the way to success. It’s just a matter of how long that takes.
Notes: Don’t forget that the Kings traded down in the draft to pick Fredette 10th instead of 7th while also picking up the terrible contract of the past-his-prime veteran John Salmons. So far the Kings are looking pretty stupid.
24. Washington Wizards
I just want to preface this low ranking by saying that I really do like the Wizards and hope that they do well this season. I’m probably only saying that because John Wall should be the most exciting young point guard in the NBA since the last most exciting young point guard in the NBA and because their new retro inspired jerseys are a work of art. Based on inflated summer basketball stats that mean less than nothing, Wall should emerge as a dynamic leader for this group of youngsters. With a tandem of two very big men who really need to develop in JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche, the Wiz already have their most important pieces in place to be competitive on both ends of the floor. With a little maturity and a focus on winning (two road wins all last season), the Wizards are definitely a team on the rise and one that will be entertaining every night for years to come. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win any time soon.
Note: If you don’t believe me that JaVale McGee is a very big man, then watch this informative video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ice7VG-L57Q
23. Utah Jazz
With the clear NBA bottom dwellers out of the way, this is where the rankings get tougher, and the Jazz fall to this spot by default. They are still recovering from the sudden resignation of their long, long time head coach Jerry Sloan in the middle of last season, and the departure of superstar point guard Deron Williams shortly after. The team now lacks an identity. What they do not lack however, is big men. They currently have veterans Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, Mehmet Okur along with unproven young players Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. Don’t be surprised if we see one of those older players traded soon for some severely needed help in the backcourt. Devin Harris will look to regain his former all-star form we saw in New Jersey while trying to lead this eclectic group.
Note: For those of you who followed college basketball at all, you’ll notice that Jimmer Fredette did not get drafted by the Utah Jazz like everyone wanted. They got Alec Burks instead, but I hear great things about him too, despite his name not being Jimmer.
22. New Jersey Nets
Hey, speaking of the Nets, here they are! People all across the Garden State are all asking could this finally be the Nets’ year? And by that I mean the year they get Dwight Howard. The move to get Deron Williams at last year’s trade deadline was a great step in the right direction (only if he re-signs!) for this Brooklyn bound team. The task now is to keep Williams happy. Unfortunately, the Nets will be the subject of trade rumors all year to the point that you won’t notice how they’re playing anyway. But, if you are planning on paying any attention to the team itself, obviously look out for a strong showing from Deron Williams in his quest for more help. Despite only playing in 12 games for the Nets last year, he averaged just under 13 assists to go with his 15 points. The other big question is whether or not Brook Lopez will be able to grab a rebound this year after averaging a dismal 6 all last season. With numbers like that, it’s easy to understand why the Nets so desperately crave three time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard.
21. Phoenix Suns
Just two years removed from the Western Conference Finals, the Suns are a team that looks to be in rapid decline. The Suns employ roughly the same style that made them so successful in this decade, but they just don’t have the pieces they need to generate wins. Former two time MVP Steve Nash will be 38 in February (regardless of whether or not he is traded) and while Marcin Gortat should surprise as one of the top centers in the league, the roster is too thin beyond that. Players who should be no more than role players on good teams will be forced to step up into bigger roles. With the potential of three games in three nights looming, Nash may struggle to keep up his pace, which is unfortunate because their backup point guard Aaron Brooks will be playing in China. Short of Nash winning his third MVP award (anything is possible with him), the playoffs look like a long shot in Phoenix.
Note: Phoenix finished with a 40-42 record last season and were in tenth place in the West. The Indiana Pacers finished with a 37-45 record, got the eighth seed, and beat the Bulls once in the first round. I just thought I’d point out how unfair the West is.
NBA Preseason Reverse Power Rankings (26-30)
The lockout is finally over and it’s just about time for free agency and the regular season to begin. So, before we get there, I’m releasing my reverse power rankings with 5 teams each day, and ending just in time for Friday’s December 9th free agent frenzy. Obviously, by the time any of these rankings are released, free agency rumors could leak and everything I wrote could be rendered meaningless, so I’m mentioning all that here rather than placing asterisks and explanations in every individual ranking. Now, without further adieu, here are your bottom five:
30. Charlotte Bobcats
Ladies (do we have any of those reading this blog?) and gentlemen, I present the 2011-2012 worst team in the league. After losing Raymond Felton, Gerald Wallace, Jason Richardson, Stephen Jackson, Emeka Okafor, and Tyson Chandler over the last 4 seasons with absolutely nothing to show for it, the Bobcats are now entering full rebuilding mode. Corey Maggette has been brought in to replace Stephen Jackson as their new ballhog and leading scorer, DJ Augustin is still undersized and will now have competition for minutes, and, somehow, Tyrus Thomas has become a top player on an NBA team. If nothing else Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker will make for intriguing rookies, but don’t be surprised when they’re joined by a high draft pick next year.
Notes: The Bobcats launched this embarrassingly bad rookie introduction campaign after the draft that’s really too funny not to point out: http://www.nba.com/bobcats/110623_release_draft.html
29. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors, a 22 win team last year, opted to improve their future prospects in the last draft. By drafting Jonas Valanciunas, who we almost certainly won’t see until next year, they sacrificed any chance of success this season. Despite the addition of new head coach Dwayne Casey, their roster should not look too different than it did last year when Andrea Bargnani reinforced his lack of ability to lead a team. Jose Calderon will battle to be the best Spanish born point guard in the league (See: Timberwolves) and Ed Davis could surprise after a quietly effective rookie season. Look for improvements in DeMar DeRozan’s game and he alone should be good for frequent appearances for Canada’s team on Sports Centre (not to be confused with the American Sports Center).
28. Detroit Pistons
If last year was any indication of the direction the Pistons are headed, look out for another disastrous season for this recently proud franchise. Detroit must decide on a direction to go right now with a core of both players from the glory days (Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace) and the gory days (Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villanueva) who still have to figure out how to mesh with the young guys. If they can somehow manage to greatly improve under the guidance of new head coach Lawrence Frank, they will only be hurting themselves. This season should be all about developing second year center Greg Monroe and rookie point guard Brandon Knight and hoping those ping pong balls bounce their way for the strong upcoming 2012 draft.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers
Ranking the Cavs this high is essentially a courtesy to the team and to Kyrie Irving after drafting him number 1 overall last June. While I don’t agree with the pick by any means (See: Timberwolves, again), I remain intrigued, and Cleveland obviously saw something in Irving that I still do not. However, even more befuddling is why Cleveland would draft Tristan Thompson at number 4. Again, these are not players I have seen play yet, and they could easily prove me wrong, but I think there were much better options on the table for them at both picks (or in a trade package involving both?). Having said all that, it will be interesting to see how Baron Davis and Antawn Jamison handle babysitting duties for the younger players, and look out for newcomer Omri Casspi to become an instant fan favorite for this losing team.
Note: See, you can talk about the Cavs without mentioning LeBron. Whoops. Never mind.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves
Make no mistake, this will be Minnesota’s most entertaining season in Garnett knows how many years, but that will not necessarily translate into wins. Rick Adelman should prove to be a huge step up in the coaching department and Ricky Rubio will certainly be the most interesting Spanish point guard prodigy drafted in 2009 who then disappointed in Europe instead of coming straight to the NBA. Leaving the unproven Rubio aside, look for Kevin Love to grow after his first all-star appearance and winning the most improved player award, Derrick Williams should prove to be the star of this draft and is my pick for Rookie of the Year, and Michael Beasley will do his best not to screw things up. Also, look for quietly solid contribution from second year player Wesley Johnson, and if I could predict what to look out for from Anthony Randolph this season, this is the spot I would do it. Unfortunately, he’s as much a mystery as the rest of these young wolf pups.
Note: The Minnesota Lynx, the Timberwolves’ WNBA counterpart, won the championship last year. I just wanted to point that out. Don’t expect the same from the Timberwolves.