Rankings and analysis of all 30 teams, complete with postseason predictions
Contrary to popular belief of a few weeks ago, there will, in fact, be professional basketball this winter. SCO now presents the 2011-2012 NBA Season Preview, as we analyze each team and attempt to make some sense of this coming basketball season.
The 66-game season, while shorter, will feature an intensive schedule in which teams are required to play at least one set of back-to-back-to-back games. Winning late in the season will require a deep team with bench players that can provide fresh legs and rest for starters.
The shortened preseason and free agency period has led to rumors of a marquee trade or signing almost every day. Chris Paul has already been shipped off to the Clippers, and these rankings were made with the assumption that, sometime before Christmas, Dwight Howard will leave Orlando.
The only thing we can be sure of is that these predictions will definitely be one hundred percent accurate. Okay, probably not. But read anyways.
A division that has long been dominated by the Celtics will begin to vary this season. Both New York teams have considerably improved and will make a run for the playoffs, and Philadelphia will hang around late in the season, as always.
1. New York Knicks
2010-11: 42-40, second in Atlantic, lost in first round of playoffs.
The upstart team in the East, New York made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2004 and look to be even better this year. The acquisition of Tyson Chandler will add to an already-stellar frontcourt featuring Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. Mike D'Antoni's frenzied style of play has flourished in New York, as the Knicks were ninth in the league in scoring last year, and only the Orlando Magic drained more three-pointers. The Knicks will vault to the head of the division this year, though lack of playoff experience will hurt them in the postseason.
2. Boston Celtics
2010-11: 56-26, first in Atlantic, lost in second round of playoffs.
The aging Celtics will struggle with the physically draining schedule, but they are still a good enough team to finish high up in the East. Rajon Rondo has become a premiere point guard, and if Boston doesn't trade him (which isn't a sure thing), he will lead his teammates to the playoffs. Keyon Dooling, for whom the Celtics just traded, will provide steals and dependable three-point shooting off the bench. Veteran all-stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are used to winning in the playoffs, but may be out of gas come May.
3. New Jersey Nets
2010-11: 24-58, fourth in Atlantic, did not make playoffs.
In their last season before replacing "New Jersey" with "Brooklyn," the Nets will have enough talent to make a legitimate playoff push. This incredibly young team will play with energy throughout the season. Deron Williams averaged 12.8 assists per game last year, and could be the foundation for a serious threat in the Atlantic division. Unfortunately, New Jersey hasn't assembled all of the pieces it needs to make the playoffs quite yet. Rookie Jordan Williams, from Maryland, will be interesting to watch and could become a talented inside scoring option.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
2010-11: 41-41, third in Atlantic, lost in first round of playoffs.
Young guards Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday will be supported by veterans Elton Brand and Tony Battie, providing for a smart, well-run offense, and Andres Nocioni will anchor the Sixers' defense. Last year's quick first-round loss to the Heat might be the limit on how far Philadelphia can advance at this point. Coach and former Philly player Doug Collins will take the helm, but won't be able to milk too much out of his current roster.
5. Toronto Raptors
2010-11: 22-60, fifth in Atlantic, did not make playoffs.
In what may be the highlight of Toronto's season, new center Jamaal Magloire will become the first Canadian-born player to don a Raptors uniform. The Toronto native will become the oldest player on his team, which features players who are still only potentially great at every position. DeMar DeRozan may add to last year's average of 17 points per game, and will definitely add to this year's supply of dunk highlights. The Raptors still have a long way to go.
Like last year, this division will be dominated by the Chicago Bulls. Rookies Kyrie Irving and Jimmer Fredette will bring some interest to the Cavs and Bucks, but not many more wins. The more interesting race in the Central will be for second place.
1. Chicago Bulls
2010-11: 62-20, first in Central, lost in Eastern Conference Finals.
Last season saw the blossoming of MVP Derrick Rose, but also the wilting the Bulls suffered whenever he isn't absolutely dominant. Without Rose at the top of his game in the Eastern Conference Finals, Chicago didn't have many other sources of offense. In order to win its first championship since the Jordan years, the Bulls will need to figure out how to better support the best scoring point guard in the NBA. Still, the Bulls won 62 games last year and have the potential to do similar damage this year. They won't face much competition in the Central Division, but they will in the playoffs.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
2010-11: 35-47, third in Central, did not make playoffs.
The Bucks missed the playoffs by a couple of games last year, but they have lots of upside this season. Brandon Jennings will provide some much-needed scoring; Milwaukee was last in the league in scoring last year, with only 91.9 points per game. The team hasn't improved much in the offseason, and won't be able to keep up with the Bulls, but have a good shot at the last seed in the playoffs in the relatively shallow Eastern Conference.
3. Indiana Pacers
4. Detroit Pistons
2010-11: 30-52, fourth in Central, did not make playoffs.
The Pistons have finally said good-bye to Rip Hamilton and totally committed themselves to rebuilding. Rookies Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler and Vernon Macklin all played very well in college, but will have to figure out the NBA game extraordinarily fast if the Pistons are to have a winning season. Detroit has lost its position atop the East, and the former perennial powerhouse will be reduced to a bottom-feeder for at least a few more seasons.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
2010-11: 19-63, fifth in Central, did not make playoffs.
LeBron's recent announcement that he would have handled The Decision differently probably won't do much in the eyes of many Cleveland fans, and certainly won't do much in terms of the Cavaliers' record. Overall number one draft pick Kyrie Irving is the lone bright spot amidst the adversity the Cavs will experience this season. Veteran Antawn Jamison and head coach Byron Scott will need to teach a team full of youngsters how to handle a losing season from which the Cavaliers will inevitably suffer.
LeBron's guarantee of multiple championships and Miami's poor play in the finals overshadowed the Heat's supremacy in the Southeast during the regular season. Orlando (probably) losing Dwight Howard will create a vacuum where second place was, and Atlanta and Charlotte will fight to fill it.
1. Miami Heat
2010-11: 58-24, first in Southeast, lost in NBA Finals.
The new-look Heat started slowly, but soon jumped from "Coach Spo' No Mo'" to having the second-best record in the Eastern Conference and reaching the NBA Finals. Wade, LeBron and Bosh found their chemistry quickly enough, and the team is now the most talented in the NBA. Miami's recent deal with Mario Chalmers is evidence that they believe he can be an effective point guard in their system, and he can be. Now that the pressure of the first season is off, the Heat may have eliminated their last obstacle on the path to a championship. They will be the team to beat in the NBA this year and will be contenders for a long time.
2. Atlanta Hawks
2010-11: 44-38, third in Southeast, lost in second round of playoffs.
Every year, the Hawks seem to exceed their expectations. This year, Atlanta's nucleus of Josh Smith and Joe Johnson will continue its dependable play on both sides of the ball. Former superstar Tracy McGrady will come to town, bringing some easy points off the bench but ensuring a first-round playoff loss. The Hawks will finally pass Orlando this year, but can't really compete with Miami.
3. Orlando Magic
2010-11: 52-30, second in Southeast, lost in first round of playoffs.
Orlando won't be able to replace Dwight Howard, who was their anchor on both offense and defense. Waiving overpaid guard Gilbert Arenas will clear up cap space but will cost points on the board. Signing Larry Hughes may help with perimeter defense, but not with much else. The team is getting older, and will need new sources of offense if they want to go deep in the playoffs.
4. Charlotte Bobcats
2010-11: 34-48, fourth in Southeast, did not make playoffs.
Charlotte welcomes NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Kemba Walker, who ought to bring at least a couple buzzer-beaters with him. The Bobcats have long been on the verge of the playoffs, and have a good shot at making the postseason again this year. For the first time in a while, Charlotte will be almost on par with Orlando, record-wise, but they won't get much better than that.
5. Washington Wizards
2010-11: 23-59, fifth in Southeast, did not make playoffs.
Washington will improve this year! They will be better. John Wall is beginning to come into his own, and could become a legitimate superstar in the NBA within the next two or three years. Andray Blatche and Javale McGee are learning how to better play in the post, and rookie Jan Vesely could have an immediate impact. The Wizards are one of the youngest teams and have nowhere to go but up. This year will be another year of rebuilding, but Washington has the chance to pull out of last place in the division. They are still a few years away from playing in May or June.
Though it seems that every team in this division is on the rise, Oklahoma City will again separate itself from the pack. Minnesota will be a major influence in the Northwest for the first time in years, but will have to exceed even the loftiest expectations to pass the Thunder or Nuggets.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. Denver Nuggets
2010-11: 50-32, second in Northwest, lost in first round of playoffs.
Dealing away Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups apparently did not hurt the Nuggets much, as they went 18-7 from the trade to the end of the 2010-11 regular season. It appears that Ty Lawson is Denver's point guard of the future, and this season will be determined by how well he can lead his teammates. Over his career, he has had 2.64 assists per turnover, which is not special by any means, but not awful, either, and was higher last year than his previous. Denver didn't present much of a challenge to the Thunder in the playoffs last year, and this season will again be marked by this team being overshadowed by Oklahoma City, but the Nuggets ought to play well enough to make the playoffs, if not go much farther.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
2010-11: 17-65, fifth in Northwest, did not make playoffs.
The Timberwolves are a bit of a wild card this year. Coming off of a season in which they had the worst record in the NBA, even worse than Cleveland's, they have nowhere to go but up. Monster center Kevin Love is a threat for 20 points and 20 rebounds any night, and Michael Beasley added some good forward play last year. This year, the 'Wolves will finally get to see whether drafting ultra-hyped point guard Ricky Rubio will pay off, and rookie Derrick Williams will provide talented three-point shooting and post play. Though it is certainly unlikely that Minnesota will have a shot at the playoffs, they should improve dramatically this season and have at least a semi-bright future in the NBA.
4. Utah Jazz
2010-11: 39-43, fourth in Northwest, did not make playoffs.
Led by forwards Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, the Jazz struggled throughout much of last year. The Jazz downgraded their point guard, trading away Deron Willams for younger Devin Harris. Enes Kanter, the six-foot-ten rookie from Turkey, will be fun to watch, and should provide at least some help on offense, but the Jazz probably won't make much progress this year.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
2010-11: 48-34, third in Northwest, lost in first round of playoffs.
The retirement of Brandon Roy is sad news for basketball, and especially for Portland. The Trail Blazers just managed their way into the playoffs last year, only to go down quickly to the eventual champion Mavs. The health issues continue to plague the Blazers, as Greg Oden's latest setback to the health of his knee may keep him out for another entire season. Remaining star LaMarcus Aldridge will undergo a procedure to treat Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome but should be back for the beginning of the season. Portland's future, at least its near future, does not look very bright.
Last year, this was by far the deepest division in the NBA. Four teams made the playoffs, and all five had winning records. Last-place Houston, who still managed 43 wins, will benefit from lottery draft pick Marcus Morris, and every team will be in playoff contention for the majority of the season.
1. San Antonio Spurs
2010-11: 61-21, first in Southwest, lost in first round of playoffs.
Hopefully for San Antonio fans, the Spurs are still upset over their first-round loss to the eighth-seeded Grizzlies and will be more motivated in the playoffs this year. And they will be in the playoffs. Last year, the Spurs sent out the same starting five of Tony Parker, Richard Jefferson, Manu Ginobli, Tim Duncan, and DeJuan Blair for the first fifty-three games of the season, and this consistent core will help them play together as a team, despite their lack of preseason practice.
2. Dallas Mavericks
2010-11: 57-25, second in Southwest, won NBA Finals.
First, a word of congratulations to the Mavs – they legitimately outplayed the Heat in the finals. The defending champions still have plenty of talent, that's for sure. But they are growing older and will have difficulty with the rough schedule. Starting point guard Jason Kidd is entering his eighteenth season and he and Dirk Nowitzki may have to deal with fatigue or injuries late in the season. Nevertheless, there's no reason to believe that Dallas won't be able to put up a similar regular season to last year's. Jason Terry is still just as much of a threat and Rick Carlisle knows how to run an offense. The Mavs should pull off another fine season, but defending a title is always difficult.
3. Houston Rockets
2010-11: 43-39, fifth in Southwest, did not make playoffs.
Houston's record last year would have made the playoffs had the team been in the East; in fact they would have finished above the Knicks, 76ers and Pacers to secure the 6 seed. Houston, without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, is much younger, and got a steal in drafting Marcus Morris with the fourteenth pick. Houston should be playing in the postseason and without McGrady are no longer cursed to being stuck in the first round. It's unlikely that they'll get out of the first round anyway, but now they at least have a chance.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
2010-11: 46-36, fourth in Southwest, lost in second round of playoffs.
After shocking the Spurs and taking the Thunder to seven games in the playoffs last year, it's tempting to believe that this Memphis team can pull off another surprise postseason run, but that doesn't seem likely. Zach Randolph's improved play and great fit in the Grizzlies offense looks promising for another year, and he ought to lead his teammates to the playoffs again. But I'd expect a first round lost for Memphis this time around. The loss of Shane Battier will take its toll come playoff time.
5. New Orleans Hornets
2010-11: 46-36, third in Southwest, lost in first round of playoffs.
The Hornets didn't exactly coast into the playoffs last year, and without Chris Paul their journey to the playoffs will be even more difficult. However, a recent loss of talent among other teams in the playoffs gives New Orleans a chance. The team is young and a slew of rookies should add some necessary bench points. The Hornets will be playing catch-up with the rest of the division but still have a good shot at the 8 seed in the conference.
The Lakers will continue their dominance in the Pacific. The high-flying Clippers will bring some more attention to Los Angeles basketball, which it definitely wouldn't get without them.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2010-11: 57-25, first in Pacific, lost in second round of playoffs.
Like it or not, the Lakers are not going away. Veteran, dependable players Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace will anchor the team on defense. Andrew Bynum is developing into one of the most talented scoring centers in the game. Jason Kapono and Steve Blake will drain open threes all night if opposing teams double-team any Laker. Am I forgetting anybody? Oh right, that Kobe guy. This will be his sixteenth season in the NBA, but the 6-6 guard is still one of the best scorers in the game, and knows how to finish in the fourth quarter. We will be seeing Los Angeles in the playoffs, without a doubt.
2. Golden State Warriors
3. Los Angeles Clippers
2010-11: 32-50, fourth in Pacific, did not make playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, Blake Griffin jumping over a Kia does not secure an automatic playoff bid. Chris Paul's arrival will create tons of excitement, but because of the shortened training camp and 66-game season, it'll take a while for him to gel with LA's offense. The Clippers will again be really fun to watch (especially with another former Slam Dunk contestant, Jamario Moon, coming to town), but they won't earn a playoff berth this season.
4. Phoenix Suns
2010-11: 40-42, second in Pacific, did not make playoffs.
These are not the same Suns of four or five years ago. Losing Amar'e Stoudemire, their starting center and best player, has left Phoenix struggling to get by. Throw out aging veterans Steve Nash and Grant Hill and you've got a team in full-on rebuilding mode. The Suns will be passed by the up-and-coming clippers and don't have a very good chance in taking part in the postseason festivities.
5. Sacramento Kings
2010-11: 24-58, fifth in Pacific, did not make playoffs.
Currently, the Kings have just three players on their roster (Francisco Garcia, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons) with more than three years of NBA experience. The more common mark of a Sacramento Kings player is someone just removed from being a college star and yet to prove himself in the pros. It's possible that this team will be led by DeMarcus Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette, and Isaiah Thomas, who have spent just three years in the NBA combined. Time will tell as to whether this young talent can revive the Kings, but if that happens it will, in all likelihood, not be this season.
Eastern Conference Seeding
(x) – Division leader
1. Miami Heat (x)
2. Chicago Bulls (x)
3. New York Knicks (x)
4. Boston Celtics
5. Atlanta Hawks
6. Orlando Magic
7. Charlotte Bobcats
8. Milwaukee Bucks
Western Conference Seeding
(x) – Division leader
1. Los Angeles Lakers (x)
2. San Antonio Spurs (x)
3. Dallas Mavericks
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (x)
5. Denver Nuggets
6. Houston Rockets
7. Memphis Grizzlies
8. New Orleans Hornets
Eastern Conference Semifinals
1. Miami Heat vs. 4. Boston Celtics
2. Chicago Bulls vs. 3. New York Knicks
No surprises here – the four most talented teams will advance past the first round. Miami should then be able to handle the Celtics. The more interesting series will be between the Bulls and upstart Knicks.
Western Conference Semifinals
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 6. Houston Rockets
Houston will finally advance past the first round of the playoffs, defeating an aging Mavericks team to do so. San Antonio will desperately hope not to be upset again.
Eastern Conference Finals
1. Miami Heat vs. 2. Chicago Bulls
Just like last year, these are still the two most talented teams in the East. Derrick Rose will get a shot at redemption against Miami's Big Three.
Western Conference Finals
4. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 2. San Antonio Spurs
By this time, the Lakers will have become complacent again, and the Thunder will have taken advantage. This Conference showdown pits two polar opposites against each other; young, quick OKC will attempt to dethrone the classic aging San Antonio dynasty.
Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Fans will be lucky enough to see the NBA Finals series that so many of them want. These games will be fast-paced and down to the wire.
NBA Champions: Miami Heat
Miami was inches away from a championship last year, and ought to have improved mentally enough to make this one happen. We are seeing the beginning of a new NBA powerhouse - that much is clear. It still remains to be seen, however, whether the Heat really can win "not one, not two, not three, not four, not five…"
Langston Taylor. More »