And so we have finally arrived at Part 6 of the NBA summer power rankings. While NBA titles are nice, everyone knows they pale in comparison to power ranking championships a full ten months before the NBA Finals take place.
Today's group marks the end of a nearly week long journey through the NBA. Back on Sunday in Part 1 we broke down the five teams likely to be competing for ping pong balls in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes. In Part 2 we talked about the Celtics, and why they may be closer to the 8-seed than you'd think. Part 3 focused on the rebirth of the Cavs, Wizards and Timberwolves as they all look to end extended playoff absences. In Part 4 we talked about the Knicks terrible off-season and why they could be in for a disappointing season. And finally yesterday in Part 5 Doc Rivers and the Clippers edged out Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the Nets as we finally got into some title contenders.
Now it's time for the grand finale, where we break down the best of the best. But before we get started, here's 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
#9. Memphis Grizzlies
#8. Houston Rockets
#7. Brooklyn Nets
#6. Los Angeles Clippers
#5. Golden State Warriors (#3 in the West)
2012-13 Record: 47-35
Major additions: Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights, Jermaine O'Neal, Toney Douglas
Major subtractions: Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins, Brandon Rush
The Warriors announced their presence with authority during the 2013 playoffs, upsetting the Nuggets and then pushing the Spurs to 6 games in the 2nd round before falling short. The run was led by Stephen Curry (23.4 PPG and 8.1 APG during the playoffs) and an exciting supporting cast which included the sweet shooting Klay Thompson, rookie wing Harrison Barnes and 6th man of the year candidate Jarrett Jack.
This summer, the Warriors decided to let both Jack and Carl Landry walk, freeing up enough money to bring in Andre Iguodala. Iguodala remains one of the best defensive wings in basketball, allowing a staggeringly low 0.58 points per possession in isolation (11th in the NBA) despite nearly always drawing the toughest defensive assignment. Both he and Jermaine O'Neal, signed after a revival last season in Phoenix (8.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.4 BPG in just 18.7 MPG) should help the Warriors improve a defense which was just average last season (they allowed 1.055 points per possession, 14th in the NBA).
Golden State will likely use a starting line-up of Curry - Thompson - Iguodala - David Lee - Andrew Bogut with Barnes, O'Neal, Draymond Green and Marreese Speights coming off the bench. While the Warriors will miss Jack's scoring off the bench, Barnes shifting to a 6th man role this season should help quite a bit. Speights also figures to play significant minutes and his performance in Cleveland last season (10.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG in 18.5 MPG) shows the type of impact he can have despite not logging a ton of minutes.
The Warriors will also have a healthy Lee to start the season, something they badly missed during their loss to the Spurs. Golden State should be just as explosive as they were last year, and if Iguodala makes the type of defensive impact he is capable of the Warriors have a shot to go even further than they did last year come playoff time.
#4. San Antonio Spurs (#2 in the West)
2012-13 record: 58-24
Major additions: Marco Belinelli, Jeff Pendergraph
Major subtractions: Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair
When a championship slips through your fingers it sticks with you for a long, long time. Very few teams in pro sports history have been as close to a title as the 2013 Spurs were only to have it pulled away at the very last second. The 1986 Red Sox, 2011 Texas Rangers, 2007 Patriots and 1994 Knicks are a few of those teams that came within a strike, or a helmet catch, or a blocked three pointer of winning it all, only to fall painfully short.
For the Spurs it wasn't that they were one play away from the title — it's that they had a minimum of four chances to make that play and seal a Game 6 win against the Heat, only to fail each time. Up 4 with 28.2 seconds left, Manu Ginobili went to the line for a pair of free throws..had he hit both the Spurs would have gone up 6. He missed one. Next possession LeBron James missed a three with 23.9 seconds left..a defensive rebound would have given the Spurs the ball and a five point lead. Instead Mike Miller grabbed the board and dished to LeBron who hit a three. Next possession, Spurs up 2 with 19.4 seconds left. Kawhi Leonard went 1 of 2 from the line, failing to put San Antonio up two possessions. And finally, LeBron misses another three with 7.9 seconds left but once again the Spurs fail to grab the rebound. Chris Bosh found Ray Allen..and the rest is history.
Now the question becomes — can the veteran Spurs successfully turn the page and avoid a near championship hangover? They clearly believe they can, re-upping Ginobili and making only minor roster changes this summer. Marco Belinelli, fresh off a solid season in Chicago, should help fill the scoring gap left by Gary Neal's departure. But in general the Spurs will be relying on Tony Parker to maintain his near-MVP level of play, Tim Duncan and Ginobili to maintain their current level without dropping off, and Leonard to take another step forward in Year 3 (13.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 18.9 PER during playoff run). If all of this happens the Spurs may get another crack at Miami (or Indiana). But I just can't help thinking that they missed their shot.
#3. Indiana Pacers (#2 in the East)
2012-13 record: 49-32
Major additions: Luis Scola, Chris Copeland, C.J. Watson, Solomon Hill
Major subtractions: Tyler Hansbrough, Gerald Green, D.J. Augustin, Jeff Pendergraph
Ever since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach three years ago, the Heat have been the undisputed kings of the Eastern Conference. Three seasons together, three finals appearances. Miami is 12-0 in playoff series against the East, and have only been pushed to a decisive 7th game twice. Once by the 2012 Celtics, and this past season by the Pacers.
Unlike the 2012 C's who were an older team making their "last hurrah" against Miami, the Pacers should actually be better in 2013-14. Their starting line-up of George Hill - Lance Stephensen - Paul George - David West - Roy Hibbert are all returning, and the bench should be drastically better than the 2012-13 unit that ranked 29th in terms of point differential (-9.4 points per 100 possessions). Danny Granger is healthy after missing 77 games last season, and if he can stay on the court should be one of the best sixth men in the league. Indiana also dealt Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a 1st round pick to Phoenix for veteran big man Luis Scola. Scola is entering his age 33 season but is a perfect back-up to Hibbert and West, averaging 12.8 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Suns last season. The Pacers also scooped up Chris Copeland, who was one of the most efficient players in the NBA last season with the Knicks, shooting 48% from the floor, 42% from three and averaging 1.04 points per possession (30th in the NBA) in a reserve capacity.
Last year Indiana nearly upset Miami, but a terrible performance by their bench did them in. This year could be different.
#2. Oklahoma City Thunder (#1 in the West)
2012-13 record: 60-22
Major additions: Steven Adams, Ryan Gomes
Major subtractions: Kevin Martin
A couple of statements about James Harden and the Thunder:
1. The Harden deal may go down as a top 10 worst deal in NBA history. Trading an elite player just before he enters superstardom for a one year rental in Kevin Martin and what amounts to three mid-to-late first round picks (the rights to Jeremy Lamb, a 2013 first that turned into Steven Adams, and a future 1st). OKC broke up a trio in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden that had just advanced to the Finals while all three were 23 years old or younger. They had a potential dynasty at their fingertips and broke it up to stay under the luxury tax (insanely enough the Kendrick Perkins deal that many Celtics fans still bemoan ended up leading to the Harden deal as the Thunder then gave Perk an absurd 4 year, $32 million deal, pushing the team against the tax and forcing their hand).
2. Durant and Westbrook are still so incredibly good that the Thunder still won 60 games last season and had home court in the Western Conference playoffs. Despite the trade, OKC still has the same exact starting five that went to the Finals in 2012 (Westbrook - Thabo Sefolosha - Durant - Serge Ibaka - Perkins) and a slew of young players at varying stages of development coming off of their bench. Reggie Jackson played pretty well after Westbrook went down, averaging 14.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG and 3.6 APG in the playoffs and now will fill the Harden/Martin role of 6th man. While he is not as talented as Harden, it's completely possible that he can match the 14 PPG Martin gave the team last season (again, a season in which they went 60-22). Lamb, Perry Jones III, and Adams could also see some time this season off the bench. While all three have yet to show they can play at an NBA level, the Thunder have no shortage of young, talented players to add to their still very young, very talented roster.
So what am I saying? Well, basically that the Thunder cost themselves a shot at NBA immortality with the Harden deal, but are still an absolute force due to the brilliance of their two best players. If the playoffs started tomorrow and Westbrook was 100% I'd take them over any team in the league besides one, and that's why they're sitting pretty at #2.
#1. Miami Heat (#1 in the East)
2012-13 record: 66-16
Major additions: Greg Oden
Major subtractions: Mike Miller
What happens when you've won the past two championships, have the best player on the planet, and lose a total of one player of any significance during the off-season? Well pretty simple really — you enter the season as a clear cut #1.
But that doesn't mean everything is perfect in Miami, not by a long shot. The Heat won 66 games and steamrolled through the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs before something interesting happened. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh stopped playing like anything resembling superstars. In 14 combined games against the Pacers and Spurs Wade was held below 50% shooting 10 times, and only broke 20 points scored 4 times. He did come up huge in a couple of games, namely Games 4 and 7 against the Spurs, proving that he can flip the switch and give Miami superstar production..only not consistently. Bosh on the other hand was simply average during the last two rounds, giving Miami only 11.4 points and 6.6 boards against Indy and San Antonio. Bosh cracked the 15 point barrier just 4 times over the 14 games, and was amazingly held scoreless in 27 minutes of action during the Heat's Game 7 win over the Spurs.
When the Heat needed them most, Wade was inconsistent, and Bosh was consistently average. Miami's trio of superstars had become LeBron and a couple of pretty good players, a frightening thought for Pat Riley as LeBron approaches free agency in 2014. After all, why on Earth would James re-up in Miami only to spend the latter half of his prime with a 32 year old Wade and a 30 year old Bosh?
But that's a thought for next years' rankings. For 2013-14 the Heat are the favorites, if only because LeBron has entered the Jordan stage of his career. In fact, James 2012-13 season was more efficient than any season MJ ever posted as LeBron shot 56.5% from the field and 40.6% from three, a staggering 64% true shooting percentage. Love him or hate him (and I'm guessing more of you hate him), LeBron is at his apex right now, a basketball playing machine that puts up 27/8/7 with a shooting percentage that most centers would be jealous of.
However, despite LeBron's greatness — Miami could be in trouble this season. They are basically returning the same exact team that nearly lost two different series in 2013. They lost Mike Miller, a post-season hero who often times disappeared for long stretches due to a bad back. And they gained Greg Oden, who's own injury history makes it impossible to gauge his impact. While he may in fact be past his knee issues, the possibility that he breaks down is still overwhelmingly the most likely scenario. After all, no player in NBA history has returned from three microfracture procedures.
Making matters worse for the Heat is that the NBA is stronger now than it was in 2011-12 or 2012-13. The league is more top heavy, with 8 teams (Miami, OKC, Indiana, San Antonio, Golden State, the Clippers, Brooklyn, and Houston) viable threats to win the title. Miami proved to be just good enough to repeat in June, but with a fresh group of teams taking their shots at them this spring, their chances of at a three-peat are shaky at best. With all that said, they're still the kings. And until the games start they have earned their #1 spot.
Ok that's it folks. All 30 teams broken down. Had a lot of fun, and the best part is someone can bring up how wrong I ended up being come May and June. Good stuff.
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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
Part 5 of the NBA summer power rankings
Michael Dyer 8/09/2013 04:52:00 PM Tweet