After four days and 20 teams, we've finally made it to the top 10.
In Part 1 of the NBA summer power rankings we broke down the "worst of the worst", and which teams would be competing for ping pong balls with visions of Andrew Wiggins dancing in their heads. In Part 2 we discussed where the Celtics fit in among the Eastern Conference's afterthoughts as they begin to rebuild. Part 3 focused on the rebirth of the Cavs, Wizards and Timberwolves as those franchises look to get back to respectability. And finally yesterday in Part 4 we talked about the Knicks falling back after a terrible off-season.
Now it's time for Part 5, where we break down teams #6-10 and finally get into some legitimate title contenders. But first, a look back at the list thus far.
#30. Utah Jazz
#29. Philadelphia 76ers
#28. Orlando Magic
#27. Phoenix Suns
#26. Milwaukee Bucks
#25. Charlotte Bobcats
#24. Atlanta Hawks
#23. Toronto Raptors
#22. Boston Celtics
#21. Sacramento Kings
#20. Washington Wizards
#19. Los Angeles Lakers
#18. Dallas Mavericks
#17. Cleveland Cavaliers
#16. Minnesota Timberwolves
#15. New Orleans Pelicans
#14. Detroit Pistons
#13. New York Knicks
#12. Portland Trailblazers
#11. Denver Nuggets
#10. Chicago Bulls (#4 in the East)
2012-13 record: 45-37
Major additions: DERRICK ROSE, Mike Dunleavy, Tony Snell
Major subtractions: Nate Robinson, Richard Hamilton, Marco Belinelli
"Is that..it can't be..oh my God it is! That's Derrick Rose's music!"
With all of the jokes made at his expense, it's hard to actually think back and remember how good Derrick Rose is at basketball. But on opening night in Miami, we'll all remember.
It has been over 15 months since Rose played in a game, but his return immediately lifts Chicago up several spots on this list, even if he is a bit rusty to start the year. Unfortunately for Rose and the Bulls, it has been three years since Rose has played a full season and been healthy for the playoffs, and the Bulls supporting cast has been decimated in that time.
Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson are long gone, vastly weakening a bench that was the 2nd best in D-Rose's last healthy season (Chicago's bench has dropped from 2nd in point differential in 2010-11, to 6th in 2011-12, to 21st in 2012-13). Carlos Boozer is also three years older and enters his age 32 season having seen his PER drop from 21.4 in his last season in Utah (2009-10) down to 17.1 last season.
The Bulls wariness to go above and beyond the luxury tax has cost them their depth (costing them Korver and Asik), and now Rose is coming back to a team far weaker than the 2010-11 team that could only win one game against the Heat despite having home court. That's a lot of pressure on the former MVP to not only return to his previous form, but to play even better.
Chicago's starting five is likely to be Rose - Jimmy Butler - Luol Deng - Boozer - Joakim Noah with Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, and Taj Gibson coming off the bench. The Bulls will once again be an elite defensive team led by Deng, Noah and coach Tom Thibodeau. The question is, will they have enough offense to compete with the elite teams in the league? On nights where Rose is his 2010-11 self? Sure. But on the nights he is merely good the Bulls lack of depth and a legit #2 scoring option will come back to bite them.
#9. Memphis Grizzlies (#6 in the West)
2012-13 record: 56-26
Major additions: Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos
Major subtractions: Darrell Arthur, Austin Daye
The Grizzlies took advantage of Russell Westbrook's knee injury last season, beating the Thunder in the Western Conference semi-finals before being swept in the Conference finals by San Antonio. While they did make it further than any other time in franchise history, it's fair to wonder if they simply got lucky to face OKC without Westbrook. However, after an off-season of standing pat, it's clear that the Grizzlies themselves do not feel that way, as they have made only minor changes to their roster this summer.
Mike Conley - Tony Allen - Tayshaun Prince - Zach Randolph - Marc Gasol return as starters, with Kosta Koufos (8 PPG, 6.9 RPG with Denver last year) coming on as a back-up big and Mike Miller joining the team after being amnestied by the Heat.
Memphis wins with defense, allowing only 1.003 points per possession last season, 2nd best in basketball. But just like with Chicago, the question becomes — Do they have enough offensive firepower? Allen and Prince are complimentary pieces on offense, and while Randolph and Gasol are arguably the best big man tandem in basketball, Memphis can be completely shut down if those two are off their game as they were in the WCF against San Antonio.
I know Prince was decent last season, and I know that the Grizz were desperate to avoid the luxury tax, but it's fair to question the Rudy Gay deal at this point. While Gay is a lesser defensive player, he's a go to guy on the wing that opens things up down low for Randolph and Gasol. Without him the Grizzlies are a good team, but their ceiling is lowered in a loaded Western Conference.
#8. Houston Rockets (#5 in the West)
2012-13 record: 45-37
Major additions: Dwight Howard, Omri Casspi, Marcus Camby
Major subtractions: Carlos Delfino
Oh the impact of a superstar in the NBA. The Rockets are basically returning the same exact crew as last season, with one major exception: Dwight Howard.
Howard enters the starting line-up, pushing Omer Asik to the bench despite Asik's breakout 2012-13 season (10.1 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 1.1 BPG) and vaulting Houston from middling playoff team, to a team on the cusp of championship contention.
In James Harden and Howard the Rockets are envisioning a Kobe-Shaq type relationship that could help launch a dynasty in Houston. Unfortunately for the Rockets though, the NBA is far stronger now than it was a dozen years ago when the Lakers two man game was enough to win three straight titles. Houston does have some talent surrounding Harden and Howard — Jeremey Lin at point guard, Chandler Parsons at small forward and Asik as back-up center — but still appear to be missing one piece. If Houston could somehow turn Asik, a pure center who cannot play alongside Howard for more than a few minutes at a time, into a viable power forward, the Rockets could really take off.
Houston could also use an infusion of talent to its bench, where Asik is joined by a combination of journeymen (Aaron Brooks, Marcus Camby, Francisco Garcia) and unproven NBA commodities (Patrick Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas, Isaiah Canaan) on Houston's second unit.
Of course, if Howard truly is a generational type talent he could prove me wrong. He has a superstar alongside him, and for the best of the best it usually only takes one other transcendent talent to win a title. Now the question becomes..is Howard that type of player?
#7. Brooklyn Nets (#3 in the East)
2012-13 record: 49-33
Major additions: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko, Mason Plumlee, Alan Anderson, Shaun Livingston
Major subtractions: Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, C.J. Watson
Did y'all hear about the Nets big trade earlier this summer? I heard it was kind of a big deal in Boston.
Brooklyn's off-season blockbuster allowed them to trade for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry without giving up a single impact player off of their roster. The team then somehow convinced Andrei Kirilenko to opt out of his $10 million contract with Minnesota to sign a $3 million contract with them (note: by somehow I mean Nets owner and Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov either gave Kirilenko $50 million in Russian money under the table or kidnapped his family only to return them after he signed with Brooklyn), fortifying a suddenly deep and talented bench.
The Nets are loaded in the short term, running out a starting five of Deron Williams - Joe Johnson - Pierce - Garnett - Brook Lopez with Kirilenko, rebounding monster Reggie Evans (his 26.7% rebound rate was the best in the NBA last season), Andray Blatche and Terry leading the second unit. Of course, the key phrase is "in the short term". Garnett is 37 and Pierce and Terry will be 36 by opening night, meaning the time is now for the Nets who must knock off Miami this season if they want a chance at a title.
The biggest issue for Brooklyn will be keeping the old guys healthy and resting them enough during the regular season to ensure that they have enough left in the tank come May and June. Making things even more tricky is that the Nets hired Jason Kidd, a rookie head coach who must juggle winning with resting and deal with championship aspirations all while learning how to be a coach.
However, despite the challenges, the Nets are talented, deep and hungry to knock off Miami before their window slams shut. Desperation is one hell of a motivating factor, and Brooklyn is going to be desperate in 2013-14.
#6. Los Angeles Clippers (#4 in the West)
2012-13 Record: 56-26
Major additions: J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Darren Collison, Byron Mullens, Reggie Bullock
Major subtractions: Caron Butler, Eric Bledsoe, Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill, Lamar Odom (not expected to re-sign)
There were two reasons I did not believe in the Clippers entering the 2013 playoffs: 1. Vinny del Negro was their coach, and 2. Their big men were far too one dimensional, clogging the lane and relying on Chris Paul to create something for them. They addressed both of those issues this off-season.
After what seems like eons of haggling, the Clippers finally caved and gave up a 2015 1st round pick to the Celtics in exchange for Doc Rivers. Rivers is a monster upgrade over del Negro, and immediately paid dividends as Paul re-signed with the Clippers and was quickly joined by J.J. Redick (in a sign-and-trade), Matt Barnes (re-signed) and Darren Collison.
However, the off-season acquisition that makes the biggest impact for L.A. (aside from CP3 and Doc) is Jared Dudley, who was acquired in the same sign-and-trade that landed Redick. Dudley is one of the best three-point shooting big men in basketball, knocking down 41.2% of his attempts since 2009, and is a fantastic compliment to the high flying Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Often times last season the Clippers end of game line-ups consisted of Griffin and either Lamar Odom or Jordan. The problem with this is that none of those three are reliable shooters from deep, allowing teams to sag their defenses in, clogging the lanes for Paul and making life more difficult for the Clippers offense.
Dudley on the other hand is the perfect running mate for either Griffin or Jordan, freeing up space for them to work down low and opening lanes for CP3 to do his thing.
There is still pressure on Griffin to improve his game as he has seen his production slip in each of his three NBA seasons (22.5 PPG, 12.1 RPG in 2010-11, 20.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG in 2011-12 and 18.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG last season), but if he can take that next step the Clippers have a chance to completely steal the spotlight away from their Laker roommates.
Welp, here we are. At long last we are ready for the top 5 to be unveiled tomorrow. Pacers and Heat remain from the East; Spurs, Thunder and Warriors from the West. Time to put a bow on this thing.
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Part 1 of the NBA summer power rankings
Part 2 of the NBA summer power rankings
Part 3 of the NBA summer power rankings
Part 4 of the NBA summer power rankings
Michael Dyer 8/08/2013 03:25:00 PM Tweet