With the season beginning tonight, it’s time to rank how strong all the teams are at this point. This isn’t who will be strongest at the end of the season or who will have the best regular season. This measures how strong each team is right NOW. If a team engaged in a seven game series today with any of the teams listed below them, I’m saying they’d win. So yeah, injuries count big time. And chemistry. And like, how good they are. It’s basically a highly complex formula that you mere mortals wouldn’t understand. Either that or it’s all based on pure opinion.
1. Los Angeles Lakers — Even with the recovering Kobe shooting 28% this pre-season they’d still beat everyone. Hell, he only shot 24% in Game 7 of Finals.
2. Orlando Magic — With the Celts missing Perkins, Orlando would easily beat them right now. Come playoff time… well, we ain’t there yet.
3. Boston Celtics — Then again, even with Perkins gone and Jermaine O’Neal injured, they’re still a force that’d whup near every other team.
4. Miami Heat — With Wade recovering and Mike Miller injured, suddenly this already thin team no longer seems poised to run away with regular season.
5. Portland Trail Blazers — Yes, the Thunder are the trendy #2 pick in the west, but I still say that with Brandon Roy now healthy, the addition of Wes Matthews and more time for Andre Miller & Marcus Camby to gel with the core, these guys are ready to make the leap. And if Oden returns and stays healthy, watch out.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder — Everyone talks about Durant, but the truth is he made his big leap last year. This year’s improvement will be because Westbrook’s become a beast.
7. San Antonio Spurs — DeJuan Blair’s been a man-imal, Tiago Splitter should be back momentarily and with McDyess still capable, this is their best collection o’ Bigs since Robinson retired.
8. Dallas Mavericks — They basically only added about 22 minutes of Tyson Chandler who just brings defense. Considering their bigs last year were Haywood and Dampier who both mostly just brought defense, I’m not sure they’ve improved any.
9. Utah Jazz — Al Jeff’s fit in nicely and they went undefeated in preseason even with Paul Milsap playing uncharacteristically average. And don’t underestimate the little things Raja Bell brings.
10. Memphis Grizzlies — Another team with an undefeated preseason. It doesn’t mean they’re elite, but it does mean they plan on coming out focused and strong. That’s right, I just said a team with ZBo and Rudy Gay is focused. Go figure.
11. Atlanta Hawks — They’re no better or different than last year, but that still should make ‘em pretty strong.
12. Chicago Bulls — With the Booze not flowing, don’t expect them to come out as strong as initially expected.
13. Houston Rockets — Yao’s looked pretty solid so far and l’il KMart has had more time to adjust to the team. But with Yao coming in and out and only playing 24 minutes, it could be really hard for them to get into a consistent rhythm all season.
14. Milwaukee Bucks — With them dealing with a few players still returning from injury (chief among those, Bogut), they should be another slow starter.
15. Phoenix Suns — They’re already questioning whether Hedo can play the 4, and even Nash has conceded that they’re probably on the outside of the playoff picture. This could be the beginning of the end of Mr. Canada’s run.
16. Denver Nuggets — They may not trade Melo until near the trade deadline, but between that, a sour KMart, an injured Birdman and starting Shawne Williams at PF, things could get rough quick.
17. New Orleans Hornets — Chris Paul’s already wearing a knee brace, Marcus Thornton has lost his mojo, and they’ve looked decidedly mediocre in preseason. How long until the CP3 trade rumors pipe up again?
18. Cleveland Cavaliers — People keep expecting this team to suck, and I keep saying um, no, they’ve got a great shot at making the playoffs. The Cavs did well in the preseason with both Mo Williams and Anderson Varejao missing most of the games, and now they’re ready to go.
19. Golden State Warriors — Curry and Monta appear to be as devastating a combo as last year, while David Lee has stepped in without missing a beat, destroying the suggestions that he could only produce in D’Antoni’s system. Add in that they’ve been playing solid defense, and they can surprise some teams.
20. New York Knicks — Let’s be honest, they haven’t looked very good in the preseason. Even Amar’e seems to be backpedaling on his earlier goal of the playoffs. On the other hand, he himself has looked quite good, and all the teams below here have also looked eh.
21. LA Clippers — Blake Griffin looks like a highlight reel in the making, potentially turning the Clips into a fun team to watch. But Boom Dizzle already came to camp out of shape and even though Eric Gordon had a great summer, it proved more that he can be a great component rather than that he can be the #2 guy.
22. Charlotte Bobcats — They lost two starters (Felton and Chandler), gave away Dampier and now will be starting Nazr Mohammed. Yes, he’s still in the league. Y’know things ain’t great when they’re praying poor Shaun Livingston will be healthy by the start of the season.
23. Indiana Pacers — Tyler Hansbrough has apparently moved back in the depth chart behind both Josh McRoberts and ol’ man James Posey. I think it’s safe to say that PF is a weak spot for the Pacers. Plus Collison hasn’t looked as otherworldly as he did last year with the Hornets.
24. Washington Wizards — Arenas and Josh Howard are injured. If Wall, Hinrich and Al Thornton start, the other team can just pack the paint and leave the three-point line wide open.
25. Philadelphia Sixers — Evan Turner’s underwhelmed, but if Jrue can continue where he left off in the second half of last season, plus maybe a little something-something out of Spencer Hawes, they could be decent.
26. New Jersey Nets — Terrence Williams and Jordan Farmar should provide a great boost off the bench. However, big free agent acquisition Travis Outlaw seems like he should’ve gotten the minimum, while Anthony “Don’t Call Me Rob” Morrow hasn’t been as consistent with his shot as he was in Golden State. Then again, Avery will get this team playing hard.
27. Sacramento Kings — They might not win a ton this season, but if they let DeMarcus Cousins run free like they did with Tyreke Evans last year, not only could he also win Rookie Of The Year, but they just might have created a very intriguing core.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves — Kevin Love’s looked awesome. Beasley’s impressed. Darko’s been serviceable. No one has really jumped out at the swingmen positions. Luke Ridnour, he’s okay, but he shouldn’t be your starting point. Then again, neither should Jonny Flynn. Nor should anyone have to be saddled with a GM like Kaaaaahn.
29. Detroit Pistons — Austin Daye has impressed, TMac has regressed, and a buttload of money is being paid to bench boys Gordon and Villanueva. With Stuckey, Rip, Gordon, Will Bynum and TMac all hoping for minutes at the guard spots, expect some serious disgruntilation.
30. Toronto Raptors — Barbosa’s injured. Bargnani has yet to show he can step up and be the man. One-dimensional journeyman Reggie Evans might start at the 4. Calderon and Jack create a thoroughly non-threatening two-headed point guard. DeRozen hasn’t shown much. But at least Kleiza should be happy ‘cuz he’ll get more minutes and a chance to handle the rock far more than he did when he backed up Melo in Denver.