By: John Obenauf Email
By: John Obenauf Email

Finally! The NBA is back! And what better way to tip-off the 2012-13 season than some preseason rankings (or, maybe more like “speculations”)! Sound like a deal? Great!

Ok, so before we get started, I noticed one pretty common trend within these rankings: besides the top three teams (Miami, LA Lakers, OKC), the rest of the field is fairly muddled – it’s pretty complicated to distinguish most of the teams between “contenders” or “lottery bound.” Add that to the fact that we haven’t seen anyone in action yet (well, other than preseason games – and we all know that those are absolutely meaningless when it comes to judging a team’s performance in the regular season), and we’re shaping up for what looks to be like a highly-competitive season. Who knows – maybe one of the top three teams will stumble? Maybe one of the “lottery destined” teams will surprise us all? Well, whatever the case, just don’t get mad at me if I completely butcher the rankings this week – it’s a learning process, ok?

That being said, here’s the inaugural power rankings for the 2012-2013 NBA regular season:

1. Miami Heat (46-20 in 2011-12)

No surprise here. When you’re the league’s defending champs and you manage to find a way to: A) Keep the core pieces intact (**cough**Mavs**cough**) and find a way to add more firepower (Ray Allen and Rashard “yep, I’m still in the league!” Lewis), you’re in pretty good shape. Oh yea, that Lebron dude is pretty good too. The Heat are clearly the class of the East – if not the entire NBA. The only weakness of this team? They, theoretically, could get punished down-low by a skilled big-man (per their lack of a “true” center). But, luckily for Miami, skilled big-men are very few and far between these days – plus, who really wants to bet against these guys in a 7-game series?

2. L.A. Lakers (41-25 in 2011-12)

THE sexy pick for this season, and what’s not to like them? They added the best center in the league with Dwight Howard, added the best playmaker in the league over the past 10+ years with Steve Nash, and they found a way to get rid of their biggest headache (not named Metta) in trading Andrew “I’m gonna keep shooting 3-pointers, just because I’m jealous they’re letting Pau do it” Bynum. Though this team does have some question-marks (i.e. “can Kobe and Dwight play nice together?” or “is Steve Nash too old?”), I fully expect them to make it to at least the Western Conference Finals this season.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19 in 2011-2012)

Though Oklahoma City might not be near as attractive as Miami or Los Angeles are this season, they’ve got the pedigree to make some more noise. After making yet another long playoff run last season – not to mention another year to mesh with one another – Durant and Westbrook should be better than ever before this year. But does that make them better than Miami or the Lakers? I guess we’ll have a better idea once we see how the last-minute James Harden-for-Kevin Martin (and a couple 1st-round draft picks) deal pans out. If Martin plays anywhere near the level Harden did last year, the Thunder have to feel pretty good about themselves.

4. Los Angeles Clippers (40-26 in 2011-2012)

Ok, now we’ve reached the “2nd tier” of teams: solid teams who are going to compete all season-long and might have a chance at shocking the top three teams come playoff time (assuming the cards play in their favor). And what better way to start it off than my first “questionable” pick: Lob City. Despite having (arguably) the best playmaker in the game right now with Chris Paul, this team’s only going to go as far as Blake Griffin can take them – as good as this guy is now, it’s downright scary to think of how good he could be, if/when he reaches his full potential. I think they’re still a couple years away from being a “top tier” team (that is, if they find a way to keep CP3 in free agency next year). Oh, and from one Aggie to another: hey, DeAndre Jordan, learn to hit some freaking free throws!

5. Boston Celtics (39-27 in 2011-12)

Sure, they may have lost Ray Allen, and sure, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are well past their prime, but the honest truth is that the race for the #2 seed in the East is wide open – I’m talking, like, “win anywhere near 50 games this season and you’re gonna get home-court advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs” open. And though there may be more “stylish” picks in the East, other than the aged Celtics (i.e. 76ers or Pacers), you just can’t go against old-reliable until they prove you otherwise. With Jeff Green back from heart surgery (which, by the way – HOLY CRAP, HOW THE HECK IS THIS DUDE EVEN PLAYING AGAIN?!) and the additions of Jason “Irrational Confidence” Terry, Leandro “Don’t call me Fabio” Barbosa, and Darko “I’m actually a fairly decent player… that is, if you forget that I was drafted before Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh – heck, I was even picked before Matt Bonner!” Milicic; this team still definitely has some fight left in them. Add the whole “Miami drama” to the equation (losing both a heartbreaking Conference Finals matchup and Ray Allen to “The Heatles” in a span of a couple months), and there’s absolutely no way this team goes down without a fight. Though they might not win the 2nd most games in the East, I think they’re probably the #2 team in the conference.

6. San Antonio Spurs (50-16 in 2011-12)

Keeping the “team chocked-full of AARP card-carrying members” theme going, we have the old-guard of the Western Conference: The Spurs. True, the core trio of Timmy, Tony, and Manu are one-year closer to retirement – but haven’t we been saying this same thing for the past 4+ seasons? Seriously, did anyone expect Tim Duncan to make it this far (age 36)? At this rate, it honestly wouldn’t be too farfetched to say that this dude’ll play well into his 40’s. Add their strategic infusion of youth (Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, Danny Green) and Gregg Popovich’s mind-blowingly uncanny ability to pick up literally any schmuck off the street and get championship-caliber performance out them (all possible biases aside, is there any better coach in the league than Pop? I think he’s legitimately in the argument for top-5 coaches of all time), and this team’s primed for another reasonable run at a championship – and that’s really difficult for me to say, being a Mavericks fan. Eat your heart out, San Antonio; I know the Spurs are literally all you’ve got to look forward to every year.

7. Philadelphia 76ers (35-31 in 2011-12)

Not all too unlike the Clippers, this team’s only going to go as far as their big-man can take them. However, unlike the Clips, the 76er’s talented big-man is a “work in progress” for an entirely different reason – he’s really just more of a doofus than anything else. Seriously, if Bynum can get his act together, there’s no reason why this team can’t challenge the Heat for the top spot in the East. But, then again, can you really trust a team with a 7-foot crybaby as their best player?

**(Side note: if you had your money on “Philadelphia” in the annual “which team will Kwame Brown end up eating valuable minutes for this season?” poll, go ahead and pat yourself on the back!)**

8. Denver Nuggets (38-28 in 2011-12)

After giving the Lakers a serious scare in the 1st round last year, this team’s even better (on paper) this year; they’re completely stacked with intriguing, young players (Andre Iguodala, Ty Lawson, JaVale McGee, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth “the Manimal” Fareid, and, of course, Timofey ”Modern-Day Vampire” Mozgov, just to name a few). Expect the Nuggets to crash the playoff-party again this year.

9. Indiana Pacers (42-24)

I don’t know about you, but things just don’t seem “right” in the Basketball Universe unless the state of Indiana has at least one nationally-relevant team. And, if they’re able to keep their young-core intact (Danny Granger, Roy “I run like I’m constantly in a pool of imaginary pudding” Hibbert, Paul George, David West, George Hill, DJ Augustin, and Tyler “Surprisingly Athletic for a White Dude” Hansbrough) for the foreseeable future, this team’s got a really bright outlook ahead of them.

10. Memphis Grizzlies (41-25)

Ok, I have the Grizzlies in a virtual tie with my Dallas Mavericks for the #10 spot at the moment – the tiebreaker? It’s simple really: post play. The Grizz, arguably, have the best 4-5 tandem in the league with Marc “I’m possibly even goofier looking than my brother” Gasol and Zach “maybe if I just throw the ball anywhere near the rim it’ll go in – hey, whaddya know? It went in!” Randolph. I would be higher on this team – especially after how solid they’ve looked in the playoffs the last couple years (albeit fairly “short” runs) – but there just seems to be something missing. It’s going to be tough for them to take the next step when they added virtually no one significant in the offseason and lost their best pure-scorer (OJ Mayo) to a division rival. Speaking of…

11. Dallas Mavericks (36-30)

Ah, Dallas. As I mentioned before, I am a Mavericks fan, but I’m going to try my darnedest not to let that bias carry over to these rankings every week – see, I even put Memphis ahead of them! But, the fact of the matter is, this team’s sorta stuck in limbo at the moment; they missed out on signing hometown hero (and Carrollton, TX’s finest) Deron Williams, but, somehow, they still found a way to stay relevant in the West by signing a bunch of decent players at bargain-bin prices. True, this team couldn’t be further from their 2011 championship form, but you’ve gotta give Mark Cuban at least a little bit of credit for not panicking and pressing the “reset” button too soon. With the new additions of Chris Kaman & Elton Brand (wait, am I in 2006 again?), Darren Collison (who, by the way, is a major upgrade from Jason “these games are all way past my bedtime” Kidd), and OJ Mayo (who I fully expect to fill the Boston-bound Jason Terry’s “irrationally confident” shoes) – not to mention, a trio of promising rookies. If they can get some good team chemistry going (and that’s a huge “if”), the Mavs can potentially win a 1st round series. If they can’t, their focus shifts immediately to keeping Dirk as happy as possible (before they inevitably shoot-and-miss, yet again, next free agency).

12 . New York Knicks (36-30)

After doing some research on their roster, there’s one major aspect that stands out for the Knicks: they have four dudes who are all practically old enough to be my dad – Jason Kidd (39), Marcus Camby (38), Kurt Thomas (40), and Rasheed “I unretired just so I could add some more Technicals to my resume” Wallace (38). Yea, it doesn’t take an expert in basketball to realize that this probably isn’t a great formula for winning – heck, you don’t even have to know what basketball is to know that this isn’t a great idea! But, age aside; the Knicks still have some talented guys on their roster. Plus, if Melo and Stoudemire find a way to finally mesh with one another, they could be a scary tandem. Maybe that’s where Jason Kidd can help? But hey, who am I kidding – anyone would rather see this team completely implode than succeed. Is it too late to bet on the Knicks as my “team most likely to start an on-court fight (and not even necessarily with the other team) this season?”

13. Chicago Bulls (50-16)

Ok, this is the one team that I think will be ranked much higher once we reach the halfway-mark of the season. As just about every Bulls fan will tell you (and probably past the point of exhaustion): the success of Chicago’s season rests solely on the surgically-repaired knee of Derrick Rose. And, seeing as how he’s not expected to return until Christmas (at the earliest), Chicago’s going to have a fairly interesting start to the 2012 season. I guess the only real question for them at the moment would be: can Noah, Boozer, Deng, and co. keep the ship afloat until their salty captain returns?

14. Brooklyn Nets (22-44)

Geez, the Nets could lose every single game this season and still end up with their heads held-up. Why? Because, no matter how awful this team may end up being this year; at least they’re not still stuck in New Jersey. Resigning Deron Williams and trading for both Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace were all huge moves, but I just don’t see this team making much noise this season. Sure, they’ll end up with a decent winning-record and make the playoffs – but this team just screams “first-round sweep” material (a la Atlanta the past handful of seasons). They might be an interesting team, but, as the Spurs can tell you, “interesting” does not equal “wins” – they’re just simply not good enough to compete for the title with this roster the way it is. Something tells me that the Nets are going to be kicking themselves for years to come for missing out on Dwight Howard. What a shame. Can’t Jay-Z ever catch a break??

15. Houston Rockets (34-32)

Ok, now here’s a suddenly-interesting team. After seemingly a whole decade of botched, “what if?” trades, Houston finally found a way to make some noise with their K-Mart-for-Harden swap (plus lots of other little pieces for both sides – the most significant being Houston shipping 2 first-round draft picks to OKC). As far as their (projected) starting-5 goes, Houston doesn’t necessarily “jump off the page” at you (Jeremy Lin, Harden, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, and Omer Asik – ok, maybe “doesn’t jump off the page at you” is sort of an understatement), they do have lots of young talent on their roster – which leads me to think they might not be quite done making moves yet. Regardless, I think the Harden trade automatically brings them up 5 or 6 spots in the rankings.

16. Minnesota Timberwolves (26-40)

You could make the case that, arguably more than any other team in the league, Minnesota has the biggest reason to be concerned about injuries. Just take a look at their top-3 players – Kevin “pretty fly for a white guy” Love, Ricky “also pretty fly for a white guy” Rubio, and Brandon “I have the knees of a 40 year old” Roy – I don’t know about you, but I sure wouldn’t bet my money on all of those guys making it through the entire season. However, if they do somehow find a way to stay relatively healthy for the majority of the season, this team could – and probably should – end up making the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed in the crowded West.

17. Atlanta Hawks (40-26)

It’s pretty tough to be high on the Hawks when they’re known as “that team that always gets the 4 or 5 seed in the playoffs, only to get swept by 20+ points/game in the 2nd round.” Despite this, I actually sorta like what the Hawks did in the offseason. They got rid of some stagnant pieces (most notably Joe Johnson, whom wasn’t going to take them any further as their best player) and added some solid players (Lou “surprisingly clutch-as-heck” Williams, Devin “please, for the love of god, just don’t let him shoot!” Harris, and even Al Horford – if you count his IR-riddled 2011-12 season). So, all that being said, I still don’t really expect them to do much this season, again – I just commend them for actively trying to switch things up for a change.

18. Utah Jazz (36-30)

What are the odds that, once New Orleans changes their team name, we get to see the first-ever team-name-for-team-name swap between them and Utah? I mean seriously, what is it going to take for this to happen? Does New Orleans need to sweeten the deal with a draft pick? Does Utah get to pick the new team name? Whatever the case, this needs to happen, because I could think of 100+ different names for a team in Utah before I would get to “the Jazz” (how about “The Utah Salt Miners?” …maybe even “The Utah Adult-Contemporary Jazz?”). Now, as far as the roster goes, they actually have an interesting lineup; their trio of big-men – Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, and Derrick Favors – is good enough to become one of the premiere frontcourts in the league. I just don’t see them doing much (especially after that beat down they got from San Antonio in the playoffs last year) this season.

19. Milwaukee Bucks (31-35)

Despite all the potential problems of having a Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis backcourt tandem, if nothing else, you can’t argue that they won’t be entertaining. Throw in fantasy-stud Ersan Ilyasova, the always-consistent Drew Gooden, and a fairly-young-but-pretty-talented roster of young guys, and this team might give us reason to “Fear the Deer” once again. I sorta see a lot of parallels between this team and last year’s 76ers squad too: a 12-man rotation with a bunch of young dudes, and a couple of guards who aren’t ever afraid to take a big shot in crunch time(Ellis and Jennings, a la Lou Williams and Jrue Holliday). Expect Milwaukee to be in the playoffs this year; just don’t expect them to do much once they’re there.

20. Golden State Warriors (23-43)

Though the Don Nelson run-and-shoot days may be long gone, and this team might not be as talented as they have been in recent years, I think that they’re finally learning how to build a solid, well-rounded team in the Bay Area. Sure, they might not be the most fun team to watch anymore, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Don’t get me wrong, they’ve still got a couple fun players to watch, but they’re still probably just too inexperienced as a team.

21. Portland Trail Blazers (28-38)

Talk about a fall from grace, huh? It seemed like just yesterday when this team was fighting for the Western Conference title. Now, they’re simply just fighting for relevancy in the crowded West. It really is a shame that the whole Greg Oden thing didn’t work out for them – can’t Portland just catch a break? (Well, I guess that the only break they can catch is a literal one. Too soon?). But yea, with a healthy Lamarcus Aldridge, there’s a slight chance that this team makes some noise. But the West is just too good for them to be a legitimate contender with the roster the way it is – which is too bad for them, because they would probably be a playoff team in the East.

22. Toronto Raptors (23-43)

Does anyone else think it’s just downright adorable that we let Canada have its own real-live NBA team? David Stern’s a genius if you think about it: first he puts two teams in Canada to tap that “international” market. Next, once Canada’s finally starting to feel pretty confident about themselves, he snatches one away and moves it to Memphis – now if that’s not a shot in Canada’s gonads, I don’t know what is. Throw in Memphis’s recent success, and it’s tough not to feel even a little bit sorry for the Raptors – especially when considering, over the last fifteen years, their marquee players have been Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, and Andrea Bargnani (respectively). Heck, I guess Canada should just be grateful that we even let them field a B-team in the first place.

23. Washington Bullets (20-46)

Yep, that’s right; I refuse to acknowledge this team’s “official” name. To me, they will always be the bullets (I know, it still may be a little “too soon” since the whole Gilbert Arenas-Nick Young thing “locker room” thing, but both of those guys are gone now – it’s time to move on, already!). As far as their players go, the trio of Nene, Emeka Okafor, and John Wall is somewhat enticing, but there’s just too many young guys on this team who are going to be fighting with one another for playing time. The one bright spot: without their trio of knuckleheads (Nick Young, Andray Blatche, and JaVale McGee) this year, they at least shouldn’t make Sportscenter’s “Not Top 10” near as frequently this season.

24. Phoenix Suns (33-33)

Steve who? Ok… so maybe Goran Dragic won’t necessarily make people just “forget” about the 2-time MVP – but I think most people would agree that it was time to let Nash go; no sense in letting him “waste” his finals years on a team under total-roster-reconstruction. Plus, by cutting their ties with Nash, Phoenix was able to acquire some fairly-decent players this offseason (Dragic, Michael Beasley, and Luis Scola). Though they might struggle this season, I don’t see why Phoenix’s stock for the foreseeable future shouldn’t be on the rise.

25. Detroit Pistons (25-41)

Look up the Pistons’ 15-man roster, and you’ll either notice one of two things: A). This team has lots of depth on its roster, with a decent fusion of youth and experience, or, B). This team is crowded at every position, with no real clear-cut starters in the bunch (at least not right now). Well, if you’re a Detroit fan, you’re hoping its more option A – but if you’re a realistic basketball fan, you see more of the latter. Seriously, go Google “Detroit Pistons roster” and count how many small-forwards they have – don’t worry, I’ll wait… Ok, did you do it? (if you’re keeping score, they have seven dudes who’s primary position is SF) Now, I know that “the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint,” and all that jazz, but who’ll gets the minutes during crunch time? (Answer: probably no one; they’ll most likely get blown-out on a nightly basis)

26. Sacramento Kings (22-44)

Don’t let their name fool you; last season, this team played more like Jesters (GET IT?! THAT’S SO HILARIOUS, RIGHT?!). And even though I don’t expect much improvement off of last year, I love the potential of their big-man tandem of DeMarcus Cousins (who we know can play ball, just maybe not on a consistent basis) and Thomas Robinson (who is only a rookie, but seems to have all the necessary fundamentals for a dude his size). Throw-in the oft-erratic duo of Tyreke Evans and Jimmer, and this team might not be half-bad – though it’s fairly evident that this team’s main concern this season is going to be consistency.

27. Cleveland Cavaliers (21-45)

Wait, they still don’t have Lebron, right? Ok, just checking. All jokes aside, this team’s just bad. True, they have a couple high-draft picks, so don’t be surprised if they play some surprisingly-competitive games against solid teams this year – just don’t plan on seeing that happen in the playoffs…

28. New Orleans Hornets (21-45)

Anthony Davis could turn into one of the most diverse 7-footers ever – but the dude’s only a rookie this year (even though he got immensely valuable experience on the U.S. Olympic team this summer). Unless Davis turns out to be a complete beast this season, this team’s going to be in the running for another (and, possibly one of the last) David-Stern-Special-Delivered draft picks. I’m serious, give these guys one more #1 pick and we’ll all be having flashbacks to the David Robinson-Tim Duncan days.

29. Orlando Magic (37-29)

No more Dwight or Stan Van Gundy??! Yeesh, I’m not sure if I’ve seen a team go from “Front Page Gossip” to “Absolutely Boring” as quick as the Magic did. I guess that’s what happens when you hire Avery Johnson Impersonator Jaques Vaughn and your best player’s a 30+ year old white dude from Turkey. Sorry, Orlando, but there ain’t gonna be any “magic” this season (GET IT??!! GEEZ, I CRACK MYSELF UP).

30. Charlotte Bobcats (7-59)

Yep, this team’s gonna suck this year. Honestly, I could probably go ahead and pencil them into this spot every week from here-on. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be too shocked if they made some moderate noise this season – after all, they do have some interesting players on their roster: Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest, Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon, and, of course, the incomparable Bismack Biyombo. As rough as this season might be for Charlotte, I at least expect them to win more games than they did last season (I know, I really went out on a limb here… I mean, they only won 7 games last year – SEVEN GAMES!! Lockout-shortened season or not, it’s pretty hard to take a step backwards after a season that historically awful).

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