We’ve reached the dead part in the NBA off-season. Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe remain restricted free agents, but all signs point to their respective returns to Phoenix and Detroit. Team USA has been preparing for the FIBA Championship in Las Vegas. The team will be trimmed to 15 guys, and then finally to 12 before the tournament begins at the end of the next month in Spain. I’m very anxious to see how these preform with some question marks at center. This tournament is an excellent opportunity for DeMarcus Cousins to showcase his game against the world’s best big men. Anyway, as basketball fans wait for the FIBA Championship to get underway, you’ll see many preseason and player rankings. I’ll post a top-10 at each position list during the next few weeks. I’ve been doing research, and watching some games from last season to prepare for those rankings. Here’s my way, way too early preseason rankings based off what has happened so far during the NBA off-season.
1. San Antonio Spurs
Losing Patty Mills until March could hurt. It all depends on how Cory Joseph plays, and he’s proven himself as a capable contributor. The Spurs added Kyle Anderson, who may add value to their team this year, but he might not be ready to make any meaningful impact yet. They retain every free agent, including Finals’ hero Boris Diaw. It’s all about health, obviously, but the Spurs remain the best team in the NBA.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Pau Gasol wouldn’t have made much sense for the Thunder. Sure, he’s a wonderful passer and scorer, but the Thunder already have Serge Ibaka to hit mid-range jumpers. The Thunder needed a shooter on the wing, and they were able to add Anthony Morrow. Morrow shot 45 percent from 3 during his 18 minutes a game last year for New Orleans. The Thunder still have two of the best seven players in the NBA. Steven Adams should start for them, but the Thunder have always enjoyed Kendrick Perkins. You hope Adams can build off a strong postseason, but as Harrison Barnes found out this year, it’s not always easy to do that.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
Spencer Hawes is an interesting fit. He’s a gifted shooter and passer, but he really struggles on defense. I didn’t get the CJ Wilcox draft pick. They have way too many wing guys, already. Kyle Anderson would’ve been a good pick, but oh, well. The Clippers, like the Thunder, just need to get over the hump. The West is a crapshoot, honestly. Any of the top six teams could make the Finals, although I think the Spurs will get back to their third straight.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
I’m afraid to put any East team in the top-four. Portland added a back-up big man in Chris Kaman. The Blazers replaced Mo Williams with Steve Blake. There’s something to say about a starting five that sticks together. We know what happened to Indiana, but the Pacers were built on defense. This Portland team has great offensive players, so I just think they get better together. LaMarcus Aldridge is playing for a contract. It’s a big year for Portland. They believe they can make the Finals.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
This is the best team in the East. You can talk about their youth, and that it’ll take some time for them to gel, but Kyrie Irving will benefit strongly from playing with LeBron James. I also believe James is good enough to carry this team to the top of the East.
6. Dallas Mavericks
The Chandlers make a difference. Dallas would have won the offseason if Cleveland didn’t get Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James. Ray Felton, Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson should run an effective platoon system. I’m telling you Rick Carlisle is a miracle worker. Nelson will regain his 3-point shot, and Felton will become a nice up-and-down point guard again. Dirk Nowitzki took less money, and Rashard Lewis may still sign for a cheaper deal after he had surgery.
7. Houston Rockets
They lost two back-ups, and replaced a starting small forward with another starting small forward. Why is everybody freaking out? Beverley, Harden, Ariza, Jones and Howard makes for a really good starting line-up. They’ll figure out the bench, and a guy like Nick Johnson could make a great contribution. The Rockets aren’t going anywhere. Although it’s disappointing Houston couldn’t reel in Chris Bosh, they still have the best shooting guard and the best center in the NBA.
8. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls will be great. Rose is healthy. Doug McDermott and Tony Snell looked great in the Vegas Summer League. They’re deep, for sure. Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah will cause problems for opponents’ front lines. Washington had an easy time defending that front, but with Gasol, McDermott and Nikola Mirotic in the fold, Chicago has the potential offensive spacing to hurt any defense.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis nearly upset Oklahoma City last spring. Memphis would’ve never been the seven seed if Marc Gasol had been healthy all year. The best thing Memphis did this off-season was bring back Zach Randolph. In my opinion, Memphis had a great draft. Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes should help Memphis this season. Vince Carter still has a couple solid years left, and the Grizzlies desperately needed to do something about their small forward position. Quincy Pondexter is a nice player, but Tayshaun Prince played just as bad as any small forward last season. Prince is the only small forward to start more than 70 games, score under 500 points and shoot under 30 percent from 3. Carter is an immediate upgrade.
10. Golden State Warriors
Shaun Livingston is a great pick-up. He served as secondary ball handler for Brooklyn last season. He started at shooting guard, and helped defend bigger guards. Once Jason Kidd went with Livingston at the two, and Paul Pierce at the four, Brooklyn turned their season around. Golden State needed a quality backup at guard, and I think they found a gem in Livingston. Andrew Bogut remains their most important defensive player. The Warriors nearly beat Los Angeles without Bogut. Imagine he had been healthy during that series?
11. Indiana Pacers
Roy Hibbert will be better. CJ Miles is a good shooter. Rodney Stuckey is an interesting offensive option. Losing Lance Stephenson hurts, but the Pacers still have one of the best defenses in the NBA. Paul George can still become a better player. All is not lost in Indiana. Suddenly the Central Division is loaded with Cleveland, Chicago and Indiana.
12. Washington Wizards
Fresh off a playoff series win, the Wizards will continue to grow together. Continuity is important. Paul Pierce should be able to replace Trevor Ariza, but the growth of John Wall and Bradley Beal is most important for Washington’s success. The Wizards believe they’re ready to take the next step, and the Wizards back court wants to prove they are the best in the NBA.
13. Miami Heat
So many question marks. Let’s see if Chris Bosh can be their best player. He has to since he’s paid that way, and because of Dwyane Wade’s health. Luol Deng is good, but how good is Deng really after an uneventful tenure in Cleveland? Josh McRoberts should take some pressure off Bosh, but even his one really solid season in Charlotte could be considered a fluke. Who knows what Danny Granger has left in the tank, and Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers will see their roles increase without James needing the ball. The offense should revolve around Bosh, and when healthy, Wade.
14. Phoenix Suns
IT is a great, inexpensive pick up. Phoenix let Channing Frye go, and will most certainly bring back Eric Bledsoe (although it’s been rumored that Bledsoe and Phoenix are far apart on contract talks). They will battle for a playoff spot, but the West is just extremely difficult. The Suns play a fun, up-tempo offense, so they’ll score points, but it’s about how well they defend. Suns have liabilities on defense in Goran Dragic and Thomas.
15. Charlotte Hornets
This team is going to be fun. Adding Noah Vonleh, PJ Hairston, Marvin Williams, Brian Roberts and Lance Stephenson puts Charlotte near the top of the East. They have kinks to work out, especially at the power forward position, but Kemba Walker and Stephenson should be one of the league’s best back courts, and Charlotte has the best offensive center in the East.
16. Toronto Raptors
For the most part Toronto stood pat this summer. Toronto should benefit from DeMar DeRozan trying out for Team USA. He probably won’t make the team, but it’s always good to learn from other talented players, and coaches. Toronto will fight for home court in the First Round, and it’s a three-team race in the worse division in basketball between the Raps, Nets and Knicks.
17. Atlanta Hawks
People forget how good Atlanta played before Al Horford had season ending surgery. Atlanta brings in Kant Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha, and a very good shooter in Adreian Payne.
18. New Orleans Pelicans
They’d be a playoff team in the East. Omer Asik at center definitely opens up the possibilities for Anthony Davis. Jrue Holiday should be healthy, too. New Orleans might be my sleeper team in the West.
19. Denver Nuggets
Injuries derailed Denver from doing anything last season. They have so much depth, now. Danilo Gallinari returns, and the Nuggets traded for Arron Afflalo. Denver also added Gary Harris in the draft. Randy Foye, Ty Lawson, Afflalo, Nate Robinson and Harris make for a fun back court. Denver will compete for a playoff spot this season.
20. Brooklyn Nets
Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston helped Brooklyn play small ball last year. With both of them gone, and a new coach, Brooklyn could struggle early to figure out what sort of team they’ll be. Brook Lopez has to stay healthy if they want to make the postseason. Last year the East was historically bad. I think that every playoff team in the conference, save Indiana and Miami, got better, so Brooklyn will have their work cut out for them.
21. New York Knicks
Jose Calderon should do well in New York. The Knicks should be better. But who really knows with a rookie head coach, and Amare Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani on the team. Tim Hardaway Jr. is already a solid player, so I’m anxious to see how he improves on a nice rookie year.
22. Los Angeles Lakers
Who the hell really knows how good or bad the Lakers will be? It all rests on Kobe’s health.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves
Kevin Love will be traded, and Minnesota should get a very nice return. The T-Wolves won’t be a playoff team, but there’s no reason they can’t win a handful of games, especially if they get Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.
24. Detroit Pistons
They have to be better, right? Stan Van Gundy should be able to figure out their front line rotation, and if he does then this team has serious potential.
25. Sacramento Kings
DeMarcus Cousins makes a serious case for best center in the NBA. Losing Thomas hurts, but maybe Darren Collison is the two-way player the Kings need? Sacramento could make a play for Rajon Rondo, too. Zach Lowe wrote a killer piece about what the hell the Kings are doing after choosing Collison over Thomas.
26. Orlando Magic
Orlando has been rebuilding since Dwight Howard left, and maybe this is the year we see some improvement. Jacque Vaughn could be playing for his job. Orlando has very interesting pieces, but they’re so young.
27. Boston Celtics
Boston still believes they’ll get love, and maybe they will. Marcus Smart and James Young were two of my favorites in the draft, so I like this team. They just don’t have enough yet to be competitive. Expect trades.
28. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee should be at least fun to watch with their front court. Jason Kidd has a big challenge to try and build a winning culture in Wisconsin.
29. Utah Jazz
They seriously could be worse than Philly. New coach. Real young rookie guard. Utah will be very bad.
30. Philadelphia Sixers
And I wouldn’t have it any other way. It will be fun to watch Nerlens Noel and MCW play together again. Maybe they grab other young assets by dealing Thad Young. Philly will be better than last year, but it’ll be difficult to watch at times.