Wednesday, October 7, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Power Rankings

1: Golden State Warriors: The defending champs lost precisely nobody important to their rotation.  Bringing back the reigning MVP and his full supporting cast, there's no reason to think that Steve Kerr Luke Walton and the Warriors are going anywhere anytime soon.

2: San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs added LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to a group that includes possibly the best player of his generation (Duncan), last year's Defensive POY (Leonard), Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.  They lost some important depth in the process, as Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter, Aron Baynes and Cory Joseph will all lace it up elsewhere.  That's concerning if there are injuries, but no team breeds quality depth better, and if you add it all up, they still improved the roster.

3: Cleveland Cavaliers: They bring everybody back and get an extra year of continuity in the offense with the James/Irving/Love trio.  It's hard for me to envision the Cavs winning less than the 53 games they won last year if everybody maintains some semblance of health.  Plus, they'll have Timofey Mozgov for the full year, giving them a true big man at the C spot.

4: Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies made minimal changes to their roster this offseason, keeping their core intact by re-signing Marc Gasol.  It was good enough for 56 wins last season, and I like the essential swap of Kosta Koufos for Brandan Wright.

5: Los Angeles Clippers: Doc Rivers used this offseason to address the team's poor depth and performance from the SF position.  They signed Paul Pierce and Wesley Johnson and picked up Lance Stephenson in a trade.  That group should be better than Matt Barnes and Hedo Turkoglu and the other band of characters LA played there last year.  They dodged a bullet with DeAndre Jordan switching course in free agency and staying with the Clips.  The offseason's worst move?  The new logo.

6: Houston Rockets: If Ty Lawson has his head clear and his off-court issues under control, I think the Rockets have as good of a chance as anybody to reach the Western Conference Finals.  James Harden should be in the MVP conversation again.

7: Oklahoma City Thunder: They missed the playoffs last year, but if we're working under the assumption that Kevin Durant is healthy, why wouldn't the Thunder be a top ten team?  The issue of where he'll play after this season will nag all year long, but this is one of the most talented teams in the league.  The teams listed between #4 and #7 should really be listed as 4a, 4b, 4c and 4d.

8: Atlanta Hawks: Losing DeMarre Carroll hurts, but the Hawks still have plenty of talent and arguably the best coach in the Eastern Conference.  They don't have the depth necessary to sustain a long list of injuries, but their top seven or eight guys should get the job done just fine in the East.

9: Chicago Bulls: The Bulls got 52 wins out of last season despite playing with a clearly downgraded Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.  Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic were welcomed additions last year, and Jimmy Butler blossomed into one of the league's best wings.  It'll be interesting to see how the team adjusts to Fred Hoiberg.

10: New Orleans Pelicans: Replace Anthony Davis with a run-of-the-mill PF and the Pelicans are probably one of the worst seven or eight teams in the league.  They've got Anthony Davis though, and that means the Pelicans will be in the playoff conversation in West.  If they were in the East?  They'd be playing for home court in the first round of the playoffs.

11: Toronto Raptors: The first 50-win season in franchise history is well within reach after the Raptors added DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola and only lost Lou Williams and Amir Johnson.  The depth is better this year and Biyombo and Joseph should improve the defense on the second unit.

12: Washington Wizards: Losing Paul Pierce hurts, and Kevin Seraphin getting away puts a small dent in the frontcourt depth.  Beyond that, I like what they did by bringing in Jared Dudley and Alan Anderson on the wing.  John Wall should only keep getting better, and the same should be true of Bradley Beal and (to a lesser extent) Otto Porter.  I think they'll probably come close to repeating last year's win total of 46.

13: Milwaukee Bucks: The return of Jabari Parker and the addition of Greg Monroe should help the league's 26th-ranked offense from a year ago.  It may be tough for them to repeat last year's defensive performance (3rd in Def. Eff.) with Monroe anchoring the middle though.  Still, the end result should be a modest overall improvement from .500 to a few games above it.

14: Indiana Pacers: Paul George is back!  That's great, and definitely counts for a lot, but the losses of David West and Roy Hibbert shouldn't be taken lightly.  I'm not big on the Monta Ellis signing though.  If anything is going to keep this team from being a lock for a playoff spot, it's their play at the C position.

15: Utah Jazz: The battle for the 8th playoff spot in the West should be a fun one, likely between the Jazz, Mavericks and possibly the Suns.  Utah's defense was one of the best in the league as Rudy Gobert emerged.  That should hold true again this year as the French Rejection/Stifle Tower continues to put a force field on the paint.  The Jazz may look to upgrade the PG spot at some point in the year.

16: Dallas Mavericks: The Mavs upgraded at PG and SG, but Dirk is another year older and the C position in Dallas is the biggest question mark among any team that has reasonable hopes of a playoff bid.

17: Miami Heat: The health of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh is critical to the Heat re-establishing themselves as a playoff team this year.  A full season of Dragic-Wade-Deng-Bosh-Whiteside should be good enough for a playoff bid.  Plus, I like the depth they added with Justise Winslow, Gerald Green and Amar'e Stoudemire.  There aren't many teams who have the potential for variance like the Heat.  They could be hosting a first round playoff series or watching from home.  It's all about health.

18: Phoenix Suns: The Suns would have been a good 5-10 spots higher had their plan to land LaMarcus Aldridge come to fruition.  They did make a good move by adding Tyson Chandler, but I'm not sure it's enough to leap two teams in the West and stay ahead of Utah.  They'll need some help to make a playoff appearance.

19: Detroit Pistons: Losing Greg Monroe hurts on paper, but he didn't fit next to Andre Drummond.  Ersan Ilyasova and Marcus Morris were good value pickups and Stanley Johnson is the most naturally talented SF the Pistons have had since before Tayshaun Prince turned into a locker room cancer.  Overall I think the roster is better, but I'm not sure it adds up to a playoff berth unless they get some help from the teams in front of them.

20: Boston Celtics: The Celtics will be in the thick of the race for the 7th and 8th spots in the Eastern Conference, but I'm not sure they'll repeat last year's playoff performance.  They have a lot of assets for the future, but until they find a good way to harvest those assets, they'll be in this range.

21: Sacramento Kings: They almost certainly won't challenge for a playoff spot, but the Kings should be one of the most entertaining groups in the league.  DeMarcus Cousins is always exciting, and Rajon Rondo will either look like a disaster or a great pickup.

22: Charlotte Hornets: The trade for Nic Batum has sketchy long-term implications, and I'm not sure that it's enough to vault Charlotte back into the playoffs.  They should stay in the conversation for the 8th seed until the end of the year, but I don't think they have enough offense.

23: Brooklyn Nets: The Nets finally cut ties with Deron Williams, whose large contract and apparently sour attitude were big issues in Brooklyn.  Jarrett Jack will probably be a minor downgrade, and they didn't do much to improve the overall roster this summer.  I wouldn't be willing to wager that they finish better than 10th in the East.

24: Orlando Magic: This is the ranking I feel could look really silly at the end of the year (last year's was ranking Milwaukee 27th and Charlotte 12th, whoops!).  If things click, the Magic have the talent to sneak into the playoffs this year.  I think we're still a year or two away from that though, as their core is still young and the depth isn't quite there.  Elfrid Payton making a leap could be what makes this look like a bad ranking.

25: New York Knicks: Carmelo Anthony should be back and healthy after managing his exposure last season, and Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez are good short-term grabs.  Still, the PG situation is bleak and there isn't enough depth to challenge for a playoff spot.

26: Minnesota Timberwolves: The Wolves are set up pretty well for the future, as the 2015 Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, and 2015 #1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns work together to deliver the Wolves back to the playoffs.  This year should be another development year though, as Towns is raw and the supporting cast is a work in progress.

27: Los Angeles Lakers: Even if Kobe stays healthy, this roster is in bad shape.  I'm looking forward to entertaining rookie years from D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle (yes, I know he isn't technically a rookie).  The roster looks better than it did last year, but this is still a bad team.

28: Portland Trailblazers: Losing LaMarcus Aldridge, Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez without lining up viable replacements is a bad recipe.  Damian Lillard is good enough to keep this team from being the worst in the league, but there isn't much to like on the roster for this year beyond him.  Portland decided to make a youth movement once they realized LMA was out the door, a move that should pay off in the long run.  There will be pain this year though.

29: Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets still need to go into a full-fledged rebuild, as they're holding onto guys like Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari who aren't good enough to make them competitive, but potentially good enough to hurt draft status.

30: Philadelphia 76ers: *Looks at Sixers' roster* Nope.

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