The wait is almost over! Basketball fans won’t have to deal with NBA withdrawal anymore. The NBA season begins on October 27, with marquee matchups of Pistons vs Hawks, Cavaliers vs Bulls, and Pelicans vs Warriors.
The start of the NBA season is a special time because there is hope and optimism for everyone. Every team is currently in first place with an 0-0 record. Whatever squad you root for, this could be your year. Unless you live in New York (sorry).
These preseason rankings reflect a combination of how successful the team was in the 2014-15 season, their offseason transactions, and their draft. It is a subjective list that is my personal projection of all 30 NBA teams. Without further adieu, here is the Preseason NBA Power Rankings.
1. Golden State Warriors
The defending Champions look to defend their title and have plenty of firepower to do so. In a quiet offseason, the Warriors retained Draymond Green, which is a better move than any acquisition they could have possible made. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry has the tools to lead Golden State to another 60-win campaign.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Everyone says it every year, but this could be the last ride for the Duncan/Ginobili/Parker Spurs. With the “Big Three” taking a back seat to stars Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge during the regular season, the Spurs are the perennial favorite to take down the Warriors in the playoffs.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are like the Kardashians. They are definitely stars, but nobody really knows how they became stars (besides LeBron, who is clearly Kim in this analogy). Kyrie Irving is regarded as an elite point guard, but he has never led a team by himself to the playoffs. Ditto for Kevin Love. They have amazing talent, but they might not have the ineffable quality it takes to win a championship.
Regardless, the Cavs are the best team in the East by a mile and will find themselves in the Finals next June.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis is an interesting case study for the way the NBA is evolving. Some say the Grizzlies are the cavemen of the league, but all they do is win. The trio of Mike Conley Jr, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol rivals the Spurs’ and Cavaliers’ tandems. John Hollinger and the rest of Memphis’ front office addressed the team’s need for shooting by drafting prolific scorers Russ Smith and Andrew Harrison in the draft to supplement the aging backcourt.
5. Houston Rockets
2014 was not a fluke. The Rockets are one of the best teams in the NBA and they got even better by adding Ty Lawson and Sam Dekker. Daryl Morey is a genius and the way he put together this team is simply brilliant. With Lawson, they have a perfect combination of size, defense, and scoring for both their starters and bench. The Rockets’ biggest problem might be having TOO much depth, if that’s even a thing.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
I love what “GM Doc” did this summer. By re-signing DeAndre Jordan, and adding Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson, and Josh Smith, the Clippers certainly got more skilled. Pierce’s clutchness will be key down the stretch and if “Coach Doc” can find a role for Lance Stephenson, he could be a lethal asset. Josh Smith, Stephenson, and Jamal Crawford can lead a much-improved second-unit if all goes well.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
Don’t sleep on OKC. We all know where their talent lies: in the top dogs Durant and Westbrook. It is a superstar league and the Thunder have two of the most gifted players in the world. However, the Thunder are the most one-dimensional team in the league. Besides the two top dogs, there are no other two-way players. Every single role player in OKC is a specialist. To be successful with a roster like that, the coach needs to be brilliant at mixing and matching lineups to blend strengths and weaknesses. Scott Brooks definitely was not that coach. Is Billy Donovan up to the challenge?
8. Miami Heat
Pat Riley did it again. He turned the HEAT around faster than you can read this whole Power Rankings. By adding Goran Dragic during the season and developing Hasaan Whiteside, the HEAT have reloaded and are gunning for the second seed in the East. To add insult to injury, the Heat picked the steal of the draft in Justise Winslow with the tenth pick. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are determined to meet their old pal LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals.
9. Washington Wizards
Losing Paul Pierce will sting more than Washington fans think it will, but the Wizards still have a strong enough core to withstand the subtraction. Otto Porter Jr. really came on in the playoffs, which is a good sign. The Wiz drafted small forward Kelly Oubre Jr., who will have a tremendous role for a rookie on a non-lottery team. Washington has depth problems, but a breakout year for John Wall will help secure the third seed in the East.
10. Milwaukee Bucks
If you weren’t paying attention to the Bucks last year (many of you probably weren’t), they are a legitimate team. Jason Kidd is a legitimate coach and Giannis Antetokounmpo is legitimately an emerging star. Jabari Parker is returning from injury as a scoring threat. The Bucks have baffling length at every position which stifles teams offensively. I’m not sure where Greg Monroe fits in the equation, but I have faith Jason Kidd has a vision for him.
11. Chicago Bulls
This is not Derrick Rose’s team. It’s easy to root for Rose because of his injury history and entertaining style, but the Bulls are Jimmy Butler’s team. Butler is one of the best two-way players in the NBA and his team revolves around his offensive production and defensive stability. The culture change from Tom Thibodeau to first-time NBA coach Fred Hoiberg will be a fascinating dynamic.
12. New Orleans Pelicans
Barely missing the playoffs last year, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans will be playing vindictively. New Orleans didn’t make a big splash in free agency, but maybe all this roster needs is some continuity. The core lineup of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, and Anthony Davis played just 106 minutes together in 2014.
13. Indiana Pacers
Leslie Knope’s favorite team is a complete wild card. Paul George is making his full return at 100% and Larry Bird acquired guard Monta Ellis in the offseason. The team is going from a defensive-style big man approach (Roy Hibbert and David West), to a small-ball strategy. They are moving with the NBA tide in that sense, but does Indiana have the appropriate personnel to successfully replicate Golden State’s small lineups?
14. Phoenix Suns
Breaking up the Morris twins (Morii?) is a bad omen. Markieff has expressed disinterest in the Suns since his brother got traded, so the locker room atmosphere does not seem ideal. The Suns are going to be competitive with the backcourt of Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe, but they have a shallow roster and a severe lack of wing players.
15. Atlanta Hawks
Losing DeMarre Carroll is a bigger deal than people think. In the playoffs, Carroll was arguably their best player. Atlanta still has the infrastructure to be a solid team and last year was not a freak season. Mike Budenholzer is an elite coach, but he will only go as far as his players will take him. The success of the Hawks lies on the health of Al Horford.
16. Boston Celtics
When the Celtics acquired Isaiah Thomas from the Kings and made a playoff push last year, it caught the attention of many NBA fans and media. While Thomas is the leading scorer, Jae Crowder is the heart and soul of the rising team with a young nucleus and excellent head coach. They will be fighting for the playoff again, but it will possibly be a battle between the fifth or sixth seed rather than the race for the eighth seed.
17. Utah Jazz
Is Rudy Gobert the real deal? Jazz fans say yes. Analytics say yes. I say yes. Who says no? The Stifle Tower will be back at it defending the rim at a remarkable clip. He led the NBA in block percentage (7%) and swatted 2.3 shots per game. The Jazz are a fringe playoff team, even if Dante Exum, Trey Burke, and Trey Lyles all outperform their individual expectations.
18. Toronto Raptors
Toronto’s depth worries me. When the “Drakes” have rookie Delon Wright and former Spurs guard Cory Joseph leading the bench, there is a reasonable amount of uncertainty. However, if the Raps can find themselves in the playoffs, they will be a tough-out because of the strong production of Lowry, DeRozan, and Carroll.
19. Orlando Magic
The Magic have some potential to crash the Eastern Conference playoff party. With a defensive-minded backcourt of Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, Orlando can play disruptive defense. Rookie Mario Hezonja is an unknown commodity, but if he can contribute, the Magic are a scary team.
20. Dallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki is 37 years old. Chandler Parsons is fragile and Wesley Matthews is coming off a torn achilles. Deron Williams is Deron Williams. Needless to say, I have low expectations for this team.
21. Detroit Pistons
This team has a surprising amount of pieces. There is just no way fit all the pieces together, even without Greg Monroe. Reggie Jackson and Brandon Jennings are two unique talents, but they can’t share a backcourt. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Stanley Johnson are two young players with untapped potential, but they play the same position and will be fighting each other for playing time. At least Drummond and Ilyasova will be competent until Ilyasova gets injured.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves
The fast break led by Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Andrew Wiggins is a freight train off the tracks. Sometimes it’s unstoppable, but other times it’s so chaotic that the turnovers become detrimental. Maybe first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns can help steer the train back on the tracks. One thing is for sure, the Wolves will be entertaining as hell.
23. Portland Blazers
If losing Nic Batum to the Hornets was a slap in the face, losing LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs was a shank in the neck. Now it’s solely Damian Lillard’s team and he will bear all the offensive burden. It will be interesting to see how C.J. McCollum, Meyers Leonard, and Noah Vonleh – all young, unproven players – seize the opportunity.
24. Denver Nuggets
Is Kenneth Faried the best player on this team? The Manimal is a serviceable player, but he has no right to be the best player on an NBA team. There’s no way around it, there is a need for talent in Denver.
25. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have an underwhelming roster and a scary future. Brooklyn is heavily dependant on the scoring of Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, who are historically unreliable players one way or another (especially Lopez). Sure, Johnson will get his 16-4-4, but I don’t see where the defensive stops come from.
26. Charlotte Hornets
The starting five of Kemba Walker, Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Frank Kaminsky, and Al Jefferson is respectable. There’s not much shooting or defense on the floor, but it’s a formidable lineup.
27. Sacramento Kings
I’m trying to find the words to describe the clusterfuck that is the Kings franchise but I just can’t find them. How are Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins going to coexist on the court let alone in the locker room? I know the answer to this one: they aren’t.
28. New York Knicks
Porzingis looked amazing in summer league. It’s just summer league. Even if Kristaps
“Por-Dingus” can play at an elite level, the Knicks would still finish in the lottery. Carmelo Anthony is a loser and he always will be. It’s harsh, but it’s true.
29. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are all just walkers from “The Walking Dead.” Kobe is the zombie that won’t go down without a fight, Carlos Boozer is the one that won’t shut up, and Roy Hibbert was killed last season. D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle are the future of the Lakers.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
Same old story, same old song and dance. According to my calculations, the Sixers have 6 real NBA players on their roster. By that I mean those six guys – Okafor, Embiid, Noel, Covington, Landry, and Wroten – could play minutes on most other teams if they are healthy. This is Sam Hinkie’s deranged world. We’re all just living in it.