NBA 2015-2016 Preseason Power Rankings: Can the Warriors Repeat?

It feels like only yesterday that the Warriors took down the Cleveland LeBron’s in a thrilling NBA Finals series. And yet, somehow, the NBA season is already upon us. Can you feel the excitement in the air?!?! If not, these rankings might help.

1. Golden State Warriors

People seem to be buying into the notion that the Warriors got “lucky” on their way to winning the NBA Finals last year. To an extent, they did; every team that’s ever won a championship has experienced luck in some form or another. But we’re talking about a historically great two-way team with several players in their prime, an excellent coaching staff, a deep bench and last year’s MVP. Plus, now they’re pissed off. Nobody else deserves the top spot right now.

2. San Antonio Spurs

As you might have heard, the Spurs had a particularly Spursian offseason. R.C. Buford signed Danny Green under market value and veteran David West WAY under market value. The Spurs brain trust also convinced budding superstar Kawhi Leonard to wait to sign his max deal, which allowed them to sign the biggest free agent name this offseason in LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs were already elite, and they just added one of the top twelve two-way players in the league. Everyone should be scared. A Spurs-Warriors conference finals would be such a treat.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

After truly seeing what the Cavs are capable of in last year’s Finals, you could make a solid argument for them to move up a spot or two. Considering how much they spent in the offseason to retain guys like LeBron, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith and more, anything less than a deep Finals run will be a massive disappointment. How Kyrie and Love recover from their respective injuries will be a big factor, but the most important part is obviously LeBron. The Cavs need their supporting players to step up during the season so that he can save his precious energy for the playoffs.

4. Houston Rockets

It might feel weird putting the Rockets fourth, but they’re legit. The Rockets went from being a top-heavy team to one with legitimate depth at every position. Their biggest weakness was not having a playmaker alongside James Harden; they fixed this problem by adding point guard Ty Lawson, one of the best playmakers in the league. This team should be able to run-and-gun with the best of them, and if Dwight Howard can stay healthy, they’re legitimate contenders in the West.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

People are already asking if the Clippers’ championship window has closed with its current roster. After last year’s collapse in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals, it’s reasonable to wonder whether or not that was the Clips’ best shot at making it out of the West. This season will probably answer the question, but I’m not ready to rule them out as contenders in the West. They still have three elite two-way players at three of their starting five positions. Their biggest question mark has been their depth, which Doc Rivers addressed heavily this offseason. Adding Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson, Pablo Prigioni, Wesley Johnson, Luc Mbah a Moute and Cole Aldrich should take some of the burden off the stellar starting lineup. Oh yeah, and now they have Paul Pierce to hit game winners in the playoffs.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

Out of all of these franchises, there may not be a team with a more important upcoming season. Not only is former-MVP Kevin Durant coming off foot surgery, but he’s also a free agent after this year. If he leaves without a championship, the Durant-Westbrook era will undoubtedly go down as a failure. Still, there’s talent up and down the roster, and they do have two of the best five basketball players in the world. After all, this is a team only one year removed from taking the eventual champion Spurs to six games in the WCF, and that was without Serge Ibaka for part of the series. Can new head coach Billy Donovan lead this team back to greatness? After the success of last year’s rookie head coaches, anything is possible. Just please don’t re-sign Dion Waiters.

7. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies feel stuck in the good-but-not-great purgatory of the NBA. They’ve proven they’re good enough to hang around in the West, and their big three of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley is honestly as good as anybody’s. They weren’t fully healthy in last year’s playoffs, and though he’s solid, Dave Joerger got out-coached by Steve Kerr. The fringe moves the Grizzlies have made to try and improve the offense haven’t really worked, and I have a feeling Matt Barnes isn’t going to move the needle much. The Grizzlies should win 50 games, but they just don’t have a deep enough roster to be in the elite tier of the West.

8. Chicago Bulls

I’m as lost as you are when it comes to ranking the Eastern Conference. Similar to last year, you could make a solid argument for any ordering of the 2-7 seeds in the East that I wouldn’t refute. This ranking puts a lot of faith in new head coach Fred Hoiberg and his ability to give this offense the spark this needs. I also think we only saw the beginning of Jimmy Butler’s two-way brilliance last year, and this team will continue to grow as he does. Similar to most of the top teams, this is a very deep roster, with a nice combination of young talent and veteran leadership. Bobby Portis may very well go down as the steal of the draft, though he makes Hoiberg’s job of distributing front court minutes that much harder. We should all be excited for Nikola Mirotic’s second pro season.

9. Atlanta Hawks

It’s reasonable to expect some regression from last season’s darling team, but they’re still very much a contender in the East. Losing DeMarre Carroll’s lockdown defense and off-the-ball cutting on offense will hurt, but adding Tiago Splitter was an underrated move that will help on both sides of the ball and give Paul Milsap and Al Horford some rest. The starters should continue to flourish, but the bench is thin behind Splitter and Dennis Schröder, which could cost them as the season wears on. Hopefully Tim Hardaway, Jr. can get his career back on track after a lost season in New York; if not, he certainly won’t be worth the first round pick they traded.

10. New Orleans Pelicans

Another year, another significant improvement from Anthony Davis. Last year, he turned his midrange game into a deadly weapon. This year, he’s already draining corner threes in preseason games. The rest of the league should be very, very scared. Adding new head coach Alvin Gentry should do wonders for this team’s offense, but the health of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans is a big question mark. Still, corner threes.

11. Miami Heat

The Heat are one of the more interesting teams heading into this season. When healthy, they should challenge any team for the number two spot in the East. Their starting lineup of Goran Dragic, D-Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside is a fun blend of playmaking, shooting, rebounding, defense and two-way perimeter play. Wade still averages over 20 a game when healthy, but he’s only averaged playing in 58 games over the last four seasons. The good news is Justise Winslow somehow fell into Pat Riley’s lap with the tenth pick, and he’s only part of a really fun bench unit comprised of Gerald Green, Amar’e Stoudamire, ‘Rio Chalmers, Josh McRoberts and the Birdman. If this team can stay healthy, they’ll be tough as nails to knock out of the playoffs.

12. Washington Wizards

The biggest question in Washington is whether or not Otto Porter, Jr. can replace Paul Pierce. Probably not, but he showed flashes in the playoffs and has been excellent in the preseason. His progression, along with that of John Wall and Bradley Beal, will ultimately determine how far the Wizards go. Wall has now put himself firmly in the discussion for best all-around point guard in the game, and he’s continued to improve every season. It’s a shame Randy Wittman is the head coach; for as solid as he is as a defensive mind, he continually struggles to field a functioning NBA offense. The Wizards will miss Pierce’s playoff heroics, but adding veteran shooters Jared Dudley, Gary Neal and Alan Anderson were underrated moves that should help their second-unit score. At this point, it’s hard to determine if the Wiz are a high-floor low-ceiling team or the opposite. Let’s find out.

13. Utah Jazz

The Jazz came on strong in the second-half of last season, spurred by trading Enes Kanter to the Thunder and allowing the Stifle Tower to man the paint. This led to them sporting the best defense in the NBA after the All-Star break, and they should be almost as good this season. Losing sophomore guard Dante Exum for the year with a torn ACL will hurt them defensively, but it really hurts more for his development as a playmaker and scorer. Even though they’re this year’s preseason darling, people will continue to sleep on the Jazz, which isn’t smart. Rudy Gobert is already a top-five rim protector, and Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors are severely underrated players, both of whom are on the verge of becoming All-Stars. There aren’t any true stars in the back court, but Alec Burks, Rodney Hood, Trey Burke and Joe Ingles are all interesting pieces. There’s no reason this team can’t compete for the 8th seed in the West.

14. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors confuse me. They’ve dominated the paper-thin Atlantic Division over the past few years, only to lose both of their first-round playoff series while having homecourt advantage. They probably overpaid for DeMarre Carroll, and though he will help their perimeter defense, his off-the-ball cutting skills don’t make much sense in the heavy-isolation offense the Raptors deploy (maybe adding Carroll means they’ll get with the times and change this offensive scheme). Honestly, I might be committing recency bias by not putting the Raptors higher. Slimmed-down Kyle Lowry looked unstoppable in the preseason, and adding Cory Joseph, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo were all underrated moves that should improve the second unit. I also think rookies Delon Wright and Norman Powell are more NBA-ready than a lot of their classmates. How much Jonas Valanciunas, Bruno Caboclo and Terrence Ross can improve will have a significant impact on their playoff hopes.

15. Milwaukee Bucks

Some are pretty high on the Bucks this year; others aren’t. I try not to be a homer when writing about them, but I feel like 15th is pretty reasonable. The story should be old by now: the Bucks finally landed a marquee free agent in Greg Monroe, and he should help the rebounding and interior scoring immensely. They also get Jabari Parker back, added solid backup point guard Greivis Vazquz, sharpshooting wing Chris Copeland, and they drafted another scorer in Rashad Vaughn. Combine that with the Bucks’ rising young core, a great new head coach and some basketball momentum within the state, and the future is as bright as it’s ever been in Milwaukee. Still, there are some big questions. Can the offense survive with MCW at the helm? Can Giannis shoot? Will the Bucks still be great defensively with Monroe at center? These are all legitimate concerns. I also think that the losses of veterans like Zaza Pachulia, Jared Dudley and Ersan Ilysasova have been overlooked and will take time to overcome. The Bucks should make the playoffs again, but asking for more than 45 wins still feels like a lot.

16. Boston Celtics

The Celtics are one of the more interesting teams in the NBA. They have draft picks by the armful, and GM Danny Ainge has compiled a unique roster with lots of promising young players but really no potential stars. Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter and James Young all have compelling skill sets, but it will hard to find them all enough minutes. I like the wing combo of Evan Turner and Jae Crowder, but it would function a lot better on a team with more natural scorers. Better conditioning from Jared Sullinger would go a long way towards this team developing a go-to scorer. Trading for David Lee and signing Amir Johnson were very underrated moves that fill the whole at power forward, and their skill-sets complement each other nicely. The Celtics should be able to build on last season and compete for a playoff spot in the East, and Brad Stevens is increasingly becoming one of the best minds in the game. It will be up to him to design a fluid offense to help this team score points, and to find minutes for all of his young guys.

17. Phoenix Suns

The Suns have see-sawed between cinderella playoff team and panic-trading their players over the last few years. Their success will largely come down to how well the Eric Bledsoe-Brandon Knight backcourt tandem can function. If it works well, they will kill teams in the fastbreak and drive-and-kick opponents to death. Or they’ll both struggle to find a rhythm because neither is really a true point guard. We’ll see. The future still feels bright with promising prospects T.J. Warren, sharpshooter Devin Booker, Archie Goodwin and Alex Len coming off the bench. They can definitely compete for the 8th spot in the West if they don’t make panic-trades and Markieff Morris stops being a cancer off the court.

18. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers could definitely be ranked higher, but it remains to be seen how all of there parts will fit together this year. Losing David West and Roy Hibbert means significantly changing this team’s identity, and there will undoubtedly be some growing pains in the process. Still, Frank Vogel always gets his guys to play hard, and Paul George is a legitimate two-way superstar when healthy. Only time will tell if his body can handle playing power forward for 82 games (I doubt it). Adding Monta Ellis was a smart, low-cost move that should help the offense flow more, but losing Hibbert means this team’s once elite defense will be a lot worse. If they can be in the middle of the pack defensively, then George can carry them to a playoff berth.

19. Dallas Mavericks

It feels like this is finally the year the Mavs don’t make the playoffs in the West. Recovering from the DeAndre Jordan mishap will be a big test for Rick Carlisle and his somewhat aging roster. Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews have the potential to be a top-five wing combo, but an achilles tear is one of the toughest injuries to come back from. I’m very intrigued by first round pick Justin Anderson; hopefully he can outweigh some of the loss felt by Matthews’ absence to start the season. They will miss Tyson Chandler on both ends of the floor, and I’m not sure if Deron Williams can still play basketball anywhere near he once did.

20. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons have floated in NBA mediocrity for quite some time now, and it will be even longer before they dig their way out. Stan Van Gundy is a better coach than they’ve had in recent memory, and the losses of Josh Smith and Greg Monroe should clear things up for Reggie Jackson-Andre Drummond pick-and-rolls, which will be the center of this offense. Rookie Stanley Johnson will do nice things on both ends of the court, but there aren’t enough minutes to be had among Johnson, Jodie Meeks, KCP, Jackson, Brandon Jennings, Spencer Dinwiddie and more. Drummond is an elite center, but the roster is full of mediocre talent and question marks. Can Jackson consistently lead a functional NBA offense? We know the Thunder don’t think so. Ranking them 20th already feels too high.

21. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets chances took a huge hit when they lost Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – their most important player – for the season. He brings energy every night and is the main reason they have a consistently above-average difference. The Hornets made some interesting moves this offseason, bringing in Nic Batum, Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lamb, Spencer Hawes, Tyler Hansbrough and drafting former Badger Frank Kaminsky. Lamb, Batum, Hawes and Kaminsky should all help their spacing, but with Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson being the only scoring threats, the ceiling just isn’t very high for this roster. Still, many Badgers will be tuning in to watch Frank the Tank nightly, which will be a treat. It’s a shame they traded lottery pick Noah Vonleh after only one season on the bench.

22. Sacramento Kings

Can the Kings get any more ridiculous? First they almost trade Boogie Cousins, their franchise player, because they brought in the wrong head coach who often butts heads with star players. Then they signed Rajon Rondo after his catastrophic 2014/2015, another player notorious for being hard to manage. They also traded away Nik Stauskas, their first round pick last year, in a salary dump. What? I’m getting nauseous just writing about them, so I think I’ll stop. At least there’s one thing we can all agree on: FREE BOOGIE!!

23. Brooklyn Nets

There’s not too much to say about the Nets right now. Re-signing Brook Lopez was probably the right move, and even though I have them so low the Nets could again make some weird run at the 8th seed, which is clearly the worst thing they could do. Just ask Bucks fans. Trading for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on draft night was a nice move, and he strikes me as a Lionel Hollins-type player. My favorite move they made this offseason was drafting Juan Pablo Vaulet out of Argentina in the second round of the draft, but he’s now out four months with a stress fracture in his leg.

24. Orlando Magic

The Magic could exceed this ranking, and I definitely hope they do. Scott Skiles is known for turning teams around almost instantly, and the Magic have plenty of intriguing young pieces to deploy this year. Unfortunately, Skiles is notorious for not giving rookies minutes, which will be a problem considering most of his best players are under 26. Expected improvement from Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris and Aaron Gordon will help, but this roster is funky in nature and has a lot of questions to work through. They might still be a year away from crossing the 30-win threshold. Really, though, the only thing that matters is lottery pick Mario Hezonja. We all deserve to see what he can do.

25. New York Knicks

This year should give us a better idea about Derek Fisher’s head coaching abilities. The Knicks shouldn’t be a bottom-three team if Melo can stay healthy, and the projected starting lineup of Jose Calderon, Arron Afflalo, Melo, Kristaps Porzingis and Robin Lopez has a nice combination of spacing and rebounding. Jerian Grant, Cleanthony Early, Langston Galloway and Porzingis are an interesting young core on paper, but they all have deficiencies in their games. Only Phil Jackson and Fischer seem to think the triangle offense should’ve stayed in the nineties. If Melo stays healthy this team could sneak up the rankings.

26. Portland Trail Blazers

Things haven’t been the same in Portland since Wesley Matthews tore his achilles last March. His injury was the first domino to fall; only Damian Lillard remains from last year’s starting lineup, which was one of the best in basketball. Losing LaMarcus Aldridge to the in-conference Spurs is as tough as it gets for a franchise that had made basketball popular again in Portland. The ball is now in Lillard’s court, and he claims to be ready to take over as the franchise leader. Lillard is a star, but he has his work cut out for him to navigate this roster through the Western Conference. Portland’s roster is FULL of nice role players, which is cute but won’t cut it.

27. Los Angeles Lakers

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The Lakers will probably find themselves with a top-ten pick for the third straight year, something that seemed unfathomable when they traded for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in 2012. Part of the problem is Kobe still hoisting shots like he’s an MVP, and part of it is Byron Scott not realizing it’s now 2015. When it comes down to it, though, this roster is an odd mix of youthful potential and mediocre veterans, which won’t be enough to be competitive in the West. Trading for Roy Hibbert should help stabilize the defense some, but plenty of question marks remain on the perimeter and on the bench. Laker faithful can take solace in Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell being the future of this team.

28. Denver Nuggets

It took a while for the Nuggets’ management to realize they needed to rebuild, which is a bummer considering they traded Ty Lawson for pennies on the dollar. They will probably be sellers at the deadline once again. This will probably be a tough year in Denver, which is even harder to swallow considering how bright their prospects seemed four years ago. Mike Malone was a nice find as a new head coach, and he should do a much better job connecting with his players than Bryan Shaw did. Putting the ball in lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay’s hands may be tough at times, but it should prove worth it down the line. It’s exciting though that this is Gallo’s team now.

29. Minnesota Timberwolves

The future is bright in Minnesota, just not in 2015/2016. Honestly, if things break right, they could shoot up these rankings by about ten spots. But in a rebuilding process, falling to the bottom of the lottery is more of a loss than a win. This year is about building the skills and chemistry of their young core. Staggering minutes between young players and veterans will be tough, so expect the Wolves to be sellers of their veterans at this year’s trade deadline. A lineup of Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, KG and Karl Anthony-Towns will be one of the most entertaining in the league.

30. Philadelphia 76ers

Who else would take the last spot? This is their slot to lose until they field some semblance of a professional team. Ok, that’s a bit harsh. Brett Brown (A Popovichian disciple) has these guys playing hard every night, and they run the fast break well. Toss in Rookie of the Year candidate Jahlil Okafor, and there are a few things to get excited about. Brown’s toughest assignment will be fitting Okafor and Nerlens Noel together on offense. Still, the question remains, what’s up with Joel Embiid?

Sources: basketball-reference.com

Image: Curry and Igoudala

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