With the preseason almost over and the 2012-2013 NBA regular season set to kick off in a week, basketball fans are buzzing once again. And they’re buzzing about a lot of things including the Dwight Howard era in L.A., how high top pick Anthony Davis can take New Orleans, and Andre Igoudala arriving in Denver. With so much happening in the NBA lately, let’s check how these changes will shift the league’s balance of power heading into this year.
1. Miami Heat – Lebron James will no doubt be looking to further his legacy by adding a second title this year. The addition of Ray Allen only makes the Heat a better team that’s certainly capable of repeating. Considering how the Pacers and Celtics are Miami’s only true competition for the East crown, it won’t be a shock to see James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in the NBA Finals again.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder still look like the Western Conference’s team to beat after a surprising run to the NBA Finals. Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be very hungry for a title following their deep run last year.
3. L.A. Lakers – It wouldn’t be a shock if the Lakers eventually ascend to the top spot in our power rankings. However, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash will have to gel with their new teammates before we can truly say L.A. is the best-looking club.
4. San Antonio Spurs – With the same core returning from a team that went 50-16, the Spurs should be quite good. But once again, age will be an issue with Tony Parker (11-year veteran), Tim Duncan (15 years) and Manu Ginobili (10 years) leading the charge.
5. L.A. Clippers – After adding plenty of depth this offseason, the Clippers are expected to be a much improved ball club. New additions Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Grant Hill and Matt Barnes should provide plenty of support for Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.
6. Indiana Pacers – Last year’s surprise team isn’t a surprise this time around. Paul George and Roy Hibbert lead a great young team that will hope to contend with the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference title.
7. Boston Celtics – The Celtics will be forced to answer the age-old question of whether their age is too much to overcome this year. Kevin Garnett is entering his 17th season while Paul Pierce is in his 14th year. The relatively younger Rajon Rondo will have to pick up some scoring slack for this team.
8. Denver Nuggets – The Nuggets figure to be even better this season after adding Andre Iguodala to an already strong group. Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari should provide some nice scoring output for Denver.
9. Memphis Grizzlies – Rounding out our lineup of serious contenders, the Grizzlies could definitely challenge for the Western Conference crown with Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in their lineup. Of course, with the Lakers, Thunder and Spurs involved, this won’t be an easy task.
10. Atlanta Hawks – With guard Joe Johnson suiting up for Brooklyn this year, the Hawks are down one great player. However, a healthy Al Horford, Josh Smith, Lou Williams and Devin Harris should make up for his production.
11. Philadelphia 76ers – Philadelphia will feature a very new look this year without Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand. But it won’t be an entirely worse look since they added Andrew Bynum in the middle.
12. Chicago Bulls – The Bulls played very well without Derrick Rose since they managed to win 50 games and top the Eastern Conference in the regular season. Unfortunately, they’ll be without Rose once again (ACL) for a long stretch, which is too much to ask of a supporting cast.
13. New York Knicks – It’s nice to see meaningful basketball games being played at Madison Square Garden again. And the early going will be especially meaningful for the Knicks since they’ll be without Amare Stoudemire (knee) for the first few weeks. Carmelo Anthony will most likely shift to power forward in his absence and look to carry this team.
14. Utah Jazz – Still boasting a talented roster of Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Randy Foye, Utah should be able to grab a low playoff seed in the West once again.
15. Brooklyn Nets – With a remodeled franchise, the Brooklyn Nets are hoping to experience immediate success. Deron Williams, Kris Humphries and Joe Johnson ensure that this team will at least be competitive.
16. Dallas Mavericks – With Dirk Nowitzki coming off knee surgery, Elton Brand having preseason foul trouble, and Rick Carlisle complaining about O.J. Mayo’s defense, the Mavericks have lots of questions to answer.
17. Golden State Warriors – The Warriors should pass Phoenix this year after adding center Andrew Bogut. But with both him and Stephen Curry banged up to start the season, it’s difficult telling just how good the Warriors will be.
18. Milwaukee Bucks – Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings will give the Bucks one of the league’s top backcourts. And with both of these guys playing for new contracts, they should definitely produce.
19. Toronto Raptors – The Raptors have a budding frontcourt with Andrea Bargnani and fifth overall draft pick Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania). This alone should help them contend for a playoff spot in the East.
20. New Orleans Hornets – While they may have finished 21-45 last year, the Hornets surprised most people who thought they’d be the NBA’s worst team. With Eric Gordon back from injury and the addition of top overall draft pick Anthony Davis (U. of Kentucky), New Orleans will be markedly improved.
21. Portland Trail Blazers – We could’ve easily put the Trail Blazers higher in these rankings, but it’s difficult to judge them with so many rookies on the team. LaMarcus Aldridge will lead the club once again while J.J. Hickson and Nicolas Batum should provide some nice support.
22. Phoenix Suns – The Suns have a nice core group with Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Marcin Gortat and Michael Beasley. But is this group good enough to experience success without Steve Nash?
23. Minnesota Timberwolves – In the summer, the Timberwolves were looking like a team that would improve greatly in 2012-2013 and grab a Western Conference playoff spot. However, guard Ricky Rubio is hurt (ACL) and All-Star forward Kevin Love broke his wrist while doing knuckle pushups (out 6-8 weeks). The supporting cast just doesn’t seem to be enough to carry the T-Wolves in the early season.
24. Houston Rockets – Houston is in an obvious rebuilding effort, but they do have some decent components in Kenyon Martin and offseason additions Jeremy Lin and Omar Asik. But these three are unlikely to lead the Rockets into the postseason.
25. Washington Wizards – With John Wall and third overall draft pick Bradley Beal (U. of Florida), the Wizards might have the best future backcourt in the NBA. However, Wall is already injured and Beal is just a rookie meaning Washington will probably be waiting another year for the playoffs.
26. Detroit Pistons – Beyond adding center Andre Drummond (ninth overall pick) and Charlie Villanueva supposedly being in amazing shape, Detroit doesn’t seem to offer much evidence that they’ll do better than last year’s 25-41 record.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers – Cleveland seems to be a team that’s slowly making improvements after signing Tyler Zeller, C.J. Miles and rookie Dion Waiters (fourth overall pick). However, it’s tough to say what impact these additions will have until 20-30 games through the season.
28. Orlando Magic – Now we get to see what the Magic can do without Dwight Howard. With his supporting cast now leading the charge – including Aaron Affalo and Al Harrington coming in the Howard trade – it doesn’t look like they’ll do much.
29. Sacramento Kings – Once you get past the Bobcats, the bad teams get a little muddled. The Kings definitely fit somewhere in this muck since their bench depth is nonexistent. Tyreke Evans will continue to excel though while Michael Robinson should prove to be a solid draft pick (fifth overall).
30. Charlotte Bobcats – The Bobcats have a good chance at repeating as the league’s worst team once again. However, second overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (U. of Kentucky) should provide some excitement this season – though he’s still pretty raw.