I posted a ranking on July 23, but things have happened since then. Here is my updated list:
1. Miami Heat
Seven former top-6 picks. Very impressive. No one knows how the Heat will use Michael Beasley, but you’d have to imagine that LeBron and Wade will get him motivated. Greg Oden should help inside against Hibbert, Noah and Lopez. Heat are the clear favorite.
2. Indiana Pacers
I had the Spurs and Thunder ahead of the Pacers in my previous rankings, but I think the Pacers will be the second-best team in the NBA. Adding Luis Scola will help them tremendously on offense. Scola gives them starter-type scoring, which Hansbrough could not give. The biggest question is: what will the Pacers do with Danny Granger?
3. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs haven’t done anything except lose another assistant coach since July 23. The Spurs had a chance at Oden, which would have helped them out tremendously, but Oden obviously signed with Miami. Spurs will again rely on the aging trio. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard hope to build off of impressive postseasons.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
I said, despite losing Martin, the Thunder are still a top-3 NBA team. I take that back, but only because of the Pacers adding Scola. The Thunder will score a boatload of points. Jeremy Lamb can do some damage as a two-guard. The problem with the Thunder will always be in the postseason. Can they play a half-court game with Perkins at center? I don’t think so.
5. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls will win a ton of regular-season games. They might finish ahead of the Pacers in terms of wins-losses, but I think the Pacers are closer to a championship. Luol Deng announced he will test free agency next summer, so maybe he’ll have a great season considering it is a contract year. Oh yeah, D-Rose returns. I love this sport.
6. Houston Rockets
Yes, I am sold on the Rockets. I think they CAN be the best team in the Western Conference. Maybe even the best. Dwight Howard is primed for a great season and James Harden should have a MVP-type season. Harden does so many things well. Every time I watch him play, I wish the Thunder would have never let him go…
7. Los Angeles Clippers
Chris Paul should average 12 assists. So many shooters! I think Dudley is the most underrated NBA player. He gets little praise, but he has been a consistent shooter and a very good defender. JJ Redick has improved his all-around game the last few years, so that will be an upgrade at 2-guard. Jamal Crawford looks to duplicate a successful season from last year.
8. Brooklyn Nets
I think Brooklyn has a better chance to win a Finals over the Clippers, Rockets and Thunder. I really like the Nets come postseason when each possession matters. AK47 can defend James, George, Granger, Deng. There are two keys for Brooklyn. Jason Kidd and Deron Williams. If Kidd makes the right calls, and Williams is the Nets’ best player then maybe this team can hoist a championship…that is a big if.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies don’t have a go-to-guy yet. Memphis adds Jamaal Franklin and Kosta Koufos to their rotation. Two great, under-the-radar moves. They will give any team in the postseason fits, which is something Memphis should pride themselves on.
10. New York Knicks
Ah, the Knicks. Offensively the Knicks can be a top-5 team. If, and it’s a big if, Bargnani is healthy, the Knicks should be in good shape. But they are the fifth-best Eastern Conference team regardless of how Bargnani plays. I don’t think this team can beat the Heat, Pacers, Bulls or Nets in a series.
11. Golden State Warriors
Definitely a League Pass team. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Andre Iguodala. All of them are very exciting players. But the Warriors lost crucial players (Landry, Jack) in the offseason. Andrew Bogut said he feels 100 percent, which is a good thing if the Warriors want to contend for the championship.
12. Atlanta Hawks
Yes, I love the Hawks. Jeff Teague has been an underrated NBA player. Paul Millsap will have a big impact. Al Horford with benefit from Millsap’s play. Lou Williams is healthy. The Hawks are quietly building something. Still a few pieces/development of rookies away from being a serious threat.
13. Cleveland Cavaliers
This can be a top-10 team if Bynum is healthy. But let’s face it, Bynum will be fortunate enough to play 50-plus games. Earl Clark, Jarrett Jack, Anthony Bennett are tremendous additions for a team that needs to make the postseason. There is no reason why Kyrie Irving cannot prove his worth as a top-6 point guard and lead his team to the postseason.
14. Detroit Pistons
Maybe the most interesting offseason. New coach, Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings. What a transition. I like how they are going about business. Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe should provide a great 4-5 combo (similar to Indiana) but the key will be Jennings and Smith.
15. Denver Nuggets
Denver lost their head coach and starting 2-guard, but I still like them. I think they finish 6th in the conference, but their ceiling can be higher. Brian Shaw has waited a long time for a chance to be a head coach, and I don’t think he disappoints. Additions of Nate Robinson, Randy Foye, JJ Hickson and Darrell Arthur should give the Nuggets depth. I’m fairly high on Evan Fournier. Watch out for Denver.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves
I probably shouldn’t because I’ll end up upset if the Timberwolves don’t qualify for the playoffs. Ricky Rubio is one of my favorite NBA players. The NBA desperately needs a fully healthy Rubio-Love combo. Kevin Martin gives them shooting. Chase Budinger gives them versatility. I like Minnesota. I hope they don’t break my heart.
17. Portland Trail Blazers
Some college benches could have competed with the Blazers’ bench last season. Portland upgraded big time. Thomas Robinson, Dorrell Wright, CJ McCollum and Allen Crabbe give Portland excellent offense off the bench. Nic Batum needs to have his breakout season.
18. Los Angeles Lakers
19. Toronto Raptors
JV is a beast. DeRozan could make this team a playoff one. Rudy Gay may or may not be a Raptor by the end of the season. Atlanta could use Gay, but there’s a reason why Memphis dealt him for such a weak package. He is vastly overrated.
20. Dallas Mavericks
Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon will be fun to watch of offense. I’d rather watch a 2nd-grade swim meet than those two on defense. Mavericks will score. But other teams will score more. Borderline playoff team. I hope they prove me wrong though… I do like Dirk.
21. New Orleans Pelicans
I guess I’m not on the Pelican bandwagon. I can’t see them staying healthy. Also, I don’t think they are big enough inside to do anything. Sure they’ll be exciting to watch in the beginning, but who knows how good they actually will be.
22. Washington Wizards
If John Wall plays effective for an entire year they can be scary. Otto Porter needs to make an immediate impact. Bradley Beal should improve on a good rookie year.
23. Boston Celtics
Rajon Rondo and Kelly Olynyk in the pick-and-roll will be beautiful. Brad Stevens should help give Boston a few more wins.
24. Milwaukee Bucks
Brandon Knight, Larry Saunders, Ersan Illyasova, OJ Mayo, John Henson has an interesting possibility. I doubt they do anything, but I like Henson, Saunders and Illysaova tremendously.
25. Utah Jazz
The Jazz gave up a lot for Trey Burke. If he is good as advertised, it will be definitely worth it. Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks are solid players. Everything rests on Kanter and Favors though.
26. Charlotte Bobcats
Al Jefferson might be the best player in franchise history… that’s scary.
27. Sacramento Kings
DeMarcus Cousins is too talented. Vasquez should be fun to watch. The Kings have no chance of making the playoffs, but they might be fun to watch a few times a year.
28. Orlando Magic
I wish the Magic traded Afflalo for Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe could have been the point guard of the future. The Magic are very young (nine players ages 20-23.) Things have to be looking up for Orlando.
29. Phoenix Suns
Small backcourt and a bunch of question marks everywhere else. Morris’ twins, a former lottery point guard, Caron Butler, Marcin Gortat. It’ll be interesting to see how terrible the Suns can be since they might reach Sixers’ bad.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
I just want to see Royce White play.