Ranking the Eastern Conference
The preseason is over and teams are making their final cuts to gear up for the start of the regular season on Tuesday. With our first real look at how all 30 teams have responded to roster changes and injuries, we’ve been able to rank them all from 1-15 within each conference. We’ll start with the Eastern Conference today, and we’ll rank the Western Conference teams on Tuesday.
Without further ado, here’s how the East shapes up after the preseason:
#15 – Charlotte Bobcats
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 21-61
What We Learned From the Preseason: The Bobcats are still bad. New head coach Mike Dunlap is going to make these kids much better, but it’s a process taking a roster with zero talent and turning it into something respectable. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist showed why he was the second overall pick this past June, but the rest of this roster needs work. And work takes time. Consider 21 wins a baby step in the right direction, even if getting there is going to be a painful thing to watch.
#14 – Orlando Magic
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 25-57
What We Learned From the Preseason: Offensively, the Magic are probably going to be okay. There are plenty of players still on this roster with the ability to score the ball, even in an offense that no longer has a paint-clogger like Dwight Howard. Defensively, however, this is going to be a very brutal ball club this year, and their lack of size is probably going to be a problem. No one expects much from these guys this year, and for good reason.
#13 – Detroit Pistons
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 29-53
What We Learned From the Preseason: There’s a lot of promise here, but this isn’t the season we’re going to see it all come together for the Pistons. Not yet. Greg Monroe is likely going to have a monster year, Brandon Knight looks sharp heading into his sophomore season and Rodney Stuckey is going to score a lot of points, just not efficiently. But perhaps the most interesting story of the preseason for the Pistons was Andre Drummond, who looked downright awesome at times. He won’t be consistently good this season, but at least he looks to be as good as advertised.
In all, though, there are still more questions than answers here, but there is absolutely cause for optimism. We’re just going to have to wait a few more seasons before we can start talking about playoffs again.
#12 – Cleveland Cavaliers
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 31-51
What We Learned From the Preseason: Kyrie Irving reminded us all that he’s well on his way to transforming into a superstar, but he really doesn’t have a veep on this roster to help him shoulder the load. C.J. Miles was the team’s second leading scorer during the preseason, mostly because everybody else of note on this team was disappointing. Dion Waiters wasn’t a popular pick at fourth overall this past June, and his first seven games in Cleveland have shown why. Tyler Zeller has shown flashes but figures to be relatively underwhelming, and Tristan Thompson doesn’t look markedly improved from a year ago. The only guy who appears even remotely dependable outside of Irving is Anderson Varejao, but there’s a good chance he gets traded before the deadline. There’s a lot to love with Irving, but it’s too much to expect him to carry this team to the playoffs all by himself. This team really isn’t better than it was a year ago.
#11 – Washington Wizards
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 35-47
What We Learned From the Preseason: There was a lot of hope that the Wizards would compete for a playoff spot after making some big offseason changes, but thanks to a knee injury to John Wall that will keep him out until November, the rest of the Washington offense has looked pretty unimpressive. Brad Beal is going to take time to develop, Nene is already hurt and the rest of the roster is remarkably devoid of big-name talent. Martell Webster was the team’s leading scorer in the preseason, if that tells you anything. This season might be longer for the Wizards than we originally thought.
#10 – Milwaukee Bucks
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 38-44
What We Learned From the Preseason: Not surprisingly, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are still very, very good at scoring the basketball. The problem is that they don’t play any defense. Conversely, Milwaukee’s frontcourt actually is pretty tough defensively, yet frighteningly incapable offensively. It’s a weird balance, and with Jennings, Ellis and head coach Scott Skiles all possibly playing through the season as lame ducks, there are just too many issues here to count on the Bucks pulling it all together.
#9 – Toronto Raptors
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 38-44
What We Learned From the Preseason: The Atlantic Division is not going to be a friendly place to play this season, but the Raptors are about a million percent more interesting than they were a year ago. Kyle Lowry really is as good as advertised, DeMar DeRozan is scoring the ball way more efficiently than he’s accustomed to doing, Andrea Bargnani is reminding us how good he can be when he’s healthy and rookies Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are both already showing flashes of something interesting. But, as mentioned earlier, the Atlantic is a tough place to play, and issues of health and youth could potentially hold this group back. They looked sharper than expected in the preseason, but there’s still a need for quite a bit of growth if they hope to the make the playoffs this year. And, for the record, they might be the sneakiest good team in the conference.
#8 – Philadelphia 76ers
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 40-42
What We Learned From the Preseason: Andrew Bynum’s knee injuries are not a thing of the past. Because of a bum right knee — one in which Bynum has given time, injections and even the famous German platelet therapy treatment — Bynum still hasn’t played a minute of real basketball for his new team. The latest out of Philadelphia is that he might not even make it back for the season opener, so all those concerns about his injury-riddled past were apparently legit.
But it’s not like Bynum is the only good thing this Philadelphia team has going on. Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday have looked promising so far, and Thaddeus Young and Nick Young have been surprisingly productive early on as well. There’s talent here, but it’s hard to move them up or knock them down these rankings without knowing the fate of Bynum.
#7 – Chicago Bulls
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 41-41
What We Learned From the Preseason: The Bulls are really going to miss the Bench Mob of yore. While Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson have both been excellent, and Jimmy Butler and Nazr Mohammed have looked respectable at times, guys like Marco Belinelli and Marquis Teague have been painfully disappointing. Also, it wouldn’t be surprising if Vlad Radmanovic doesn’t get out of street clothes for the remainder of the season. In short (if it’s not too late for that), the depth that Chicago was known for last season can no longer be considered a strength.
As for the starters, it seems evident that Tom Thibodeau is going to spread out offensive responsibilities and try to win games playing defense. Nothing new there, obviously, but the Bulls are a shell of their former selves without Derrick Rose. If they can hover around .500 until Rose gets back, they’ll be a nightmare first round match-up for somebody. Until the return, however, this isn’t going to be a particularly entertaining team to watch.
#6 – Atlanta Hawks
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 43-39
What We Learned From the Preseason: Count the Hawks among the biggest sleepers in the league this year. They’ve been a playoff team for five consecutive seasons, but most assumed losing Joe Johnson would cripple them moving forward. That doesn’t look like it’ll be the case, as Lou Williams, Kyle Korver and Anthony Morrow have so far been able to make that up as a committee. We can’t forget that Josh Smith and Al Horford combine to form a very formidable frontcourt, and if Jeff Teague comes along the way he’s expected to, the Hawks actually look like one of the surer bets in the conference.
#5 – New York Knicks
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 45-37
What We Learned From the Preseason: Amar’e Stoudemire isn’t ever going to be the player he once was, not with those injured knees. Most recently, a ruptured cyst in his left knee will keep him out five weeks, but that’s not even the end of New York’s injury woes. Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Marcus Camby are also fighting ailments already, and that’s not even taking into consideration the loss of Iman Shumpert, one of the team’s best defensive players who will miss most of the year rehabbing his ACL.
Look, this is a roster that features four of the six oldest players in the entire league, so injuries are going to be an issue, which means depth is going to be an issue. That means this entire season could end up being an issue. When healthy, they’ve got one of the most talented rosters in the conference. When hurt, they’re just another East team without the guns to seriously contend.
#4 – Brooklyn Nets
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 49-33
What We Learned From the Preseason: Brook Lopez looks way, way better than any of us thought he was going to look. After seeing his rebounding numbers drop the last couple of seasons, Lopez averaged 10 rebounds per 36 minutes in the preseason, and is just as effective scoring the ball as he was before last season’s unending string of injuries. Between him, the always-excellent Deron Williams, and a bench featuring Mirza Teletovic and Andray Blatche that’s way better than anyone thought, things are looking much better in Brooklyn than they are in, say, Manhattan.
#3 – Indiana Pacers
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 52-30
What We Learned From the Preseason: The Pacers are young, healthy and tough as nails, and what we’ve seen through seven games is a team that looks primed to take another step forward this season. Paul George is primed to personify that leap, and of course Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger are still in that sweet spot between “very good player” and “All-Star” as well. Gerald Green already looks like one of the free agency steals of the summer, and the scoring is so balanced on this team that it’s not impossible to imagine seven guys averaging double figures this season. Thanks to injuries to some of the conference’s other powerhouses, the time is ripe for the Pacers to thrust themselves to the top of the conference. Should catastrophe hit the Miami HEAT, they could even have a shot at winning a title some time relatively soon.
#2 – Boston Celtics
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 54-28
What We Learned From the Preseason: Jeff Green looks fine, for one. He played more preseason minutes for the Celtics than anybody else on the team this side of Rajon Rondo and scored the ball well, shot a high clip from the floor, hauled in some rebounds and played great defense. It’s been fantastic to see him back after a nightmare year away from the game.
Beyond Green, though, the Celtics look like the deepest team in the East. They are able to go two and sometimes three players deep at literally every position, which means despite being an older team, they’ve got plenty of backup plans should things go wrong. Not all the backups are ideal, but they’ve certainly got more talent in the wings than most other teams in the league. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce only have a couple more shots at this, which makes it a really good thing that they improved upon the group that lost in the Conference Finals last year.
#1 – Miami HEAT
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 64-18
What We Learned From the Preseason: This is going to be unfair. LeBron James is gearing up for what could be the single greatest individual season of his career (which is saying something), and adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to the defending champs isn’t going to make things any easier on the rest of the league. These guys are going to be impossible to beat most nights, and predicting 18 losses may just be wishful thinking. As long as LBJ is healthy, the rest of the league shall weep with despair.
Disagree with any of these rankings? Leave a comment! Make sure you check back tomorrow for the Western Conference rankings.