The 2012-13 NBA season officially starts on Tuesday night, as three contests kickoff the first full season since 2010. Naturally LeBron James and the Miami Heat will be featured on prime-time, while there is a lot of talk about whether or not Kobe Bryant will suit up in the season opener for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Speaking of injury, the Dallas Mavericks will almost certainly miss Dirk Nowitzki in their opener, but this still figures to be a great opening night. While the excitement is brewing, there is much anticipation over whether some major changes in both conferences will be enough to change title holders this year.
We won’t find out for some time, but until we get closer to seeing who will be crowned the champs this season, let’s take a look at who comes in at what spot in our 2012-13 NBA Power Rankings for week one:
1.) Miami Heat
The defending champs are far above and beyond any other contender, and are a strong bet to repeat. With LeBron James playing at power forward and even at center with Chris Bosh on the bench, the Heat found its real groove in the playoffs, dominating with a new small ball attack. As Eric Spoelstra recently admitted, the worst thing he ever did was put LeBron in a box with set plays. Now he has the freedom – from both his coach and basketball ability – to do whatever he wants on the floor. With Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis newly added on the perimeter, expect another run to the Finals, and likely a title defense from the Miami Heat. The only way Miami doesn’t make another title run? A major injury to LeBron or Wade.
2.) Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite losing James Harden just before the start of the season, the Thunder will be fine, and are still the favorites to repeat in the Western Conference. Kevin Martin is the perfect “third best player on a title contender” and will slide right in to the wing position, hitting down outside shots and getting to the line at a high percentage. Where OKC may miss Harden is his creativity in passing the ball during crunch time. Unless of course, Russell Westbrook ever makes that true leap to a pass-first point guard and feeds the beast (Kevin Durant) when he is hungry.
3.) Los Angeles Lakers
L.A. certainly has the star power. Once healthy (presumably by the playoffs as the Lakeshow will give its aging and ailing stars much rest during the regular season), Los Angeles has the squad to do it. The additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard are perfect compliments to each other – where Nash has shortcomings (defense), Dwight is there to pick up the slack, and Howard will get several easy buckets (read: alley-oops) every game with Nash running the offense. This team will take time to gel, but once it does the starting lineup is downright scary. The team’s weakness – which I expect Kupcheck to address by the trade deadline – is backcourt depth. With only Steve Blake, Chris Duhon and Jodie Meeks to back up the aging Nash and Kobe, it may be tough to keep up with the young quick backcourts of the western conference.
4.) San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs, because of depth and coaching, will be right up at the top of the Western Conference just like any other year. The determining factor in whether they can get over the hump and beat this youth movement (losses to Memphis and OKC in last two playoffs) depends on whether Tim Duncan can get some interior help, and whether Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili can stay healthy.
5.) Boston Celtics
Make no mistake: despite the departure of Ray Allen, the Boston Celtics internally became a better team in the offseason. The fact that Allen went to the Heat is what makes Boston’s battle uphill. The additions of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, along with the returns of Avery Bradley and Jeff Green from injury, make a formidable squad surrounding the aging, yet still effective, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
6.) Los Angeles Clippers
Quite possibly the deepest team in the NBA, the Clippers will only go as far as Blake Griffin will take them. Chris Paul continues to be the best point guard in the league and the return of Chauncey Billups along with the addition of Jamal Crawford give the Clips other viable crunch-time options, but to win the west, Griffin will need to a dominant force on offense that regularly commands double teams and, more importantly, can make his free throws.
7.) Denver Nuggets
I expect the Nuggets to lead the league in scoring. This young, quick run-and-gun offense features the perfect personnel to do so, with Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee. The addition of Andre Iguodala – a proven, veteran of the NBA and, more importantly, Team USA and the Olympics – will pay huge dividends in making the leap to the Western Conference elite.
8.) Memphis Grizzlies
At the end of the day, the Grizzlies are the only team in the West that can compete with the Lakers in the frontcourt. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, if he resorts to 2011 playoffs mode, have the potential to single-handedly swing a playoff series and can matchup with Gasol and Howard. Whether Rudy Gay ever decides to step up and become the superstar franchise centerpiece he is currently paid to be remains to be seen.
9.) Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are built upon solid coaching and discipline as much as talent, a rarity in the league these days. With no huge offseason changes, the No. 3 seed in the east from a season ago will look to improve from within – something highly likely as Roy Hibbert ascends to all-star status and Paul George looks to make a huge leap.
10.) Philadelphia Sixers
Andrew Bynum, what can you do now that you have your own team? Still ailing from a knee injury that required offseason surgery, we may have to wait for that question to be answered. However, with a proven winner in Doug Collins on the bench, and Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young ready to improve and compliment Bynum (easily the best center in the East when healthy) on the inside, the Sixers will be a pesky first round out for any team in the East.
11.) New York Knicks
Carmelo Anthony remains one of the most dynamic offensive forces in the NBA, and will have to pick up the offensive slack with Amar’e Stoudemire sidelined yet again to begin the season. Tyson Chandler is a great defensive center, but Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton as the team’s point guards is unremarkable, and Steve Novak and J.R. Smith will be forced to pick up some scoring slack, especially early on without Landry Fields and Jeremy Lin.
12.) Dallas Mavericks
Dirk is out to begin the year, but Dallas sneakily made some solid, if unspectacular, offseason acquisitions. Chris Kaman and Elton Brand, if they remain healthy, should contribute in a largely underwhelming frontcourt form a year ago. The additions of O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison, both shoot-first scorers who are also capable passers, will shore up a depleted backcourt. This team is building for a large free agent splash anyway, but should provide a tough out in the West due to its experience.
13.) Brooklyn Nets
Lots of names, but how much chemistry? And can a frontcourt of Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez really contend against the beasts of the East? I love Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, but beyond that, I’m not sold. The Nets could be in for an underwhelming, yet exciting at times, first year in Brooklyn as the team finds its identity behind Avery Johnson.
14.) Chicago Bulls
Even with Derrick Rose out until at least the new year, the Bulls are a playoff team in the East. Thibbedou is one of the best coaches in the league and will have his squad ready, especially defensively, on a nightly basis. Expect a huge year from Luol Deng and anything extra that DRose can give Chicago down the stretch this season is a bonus.
15.) Utah Jazz
This is a young budding team with too many men. Rumors are, the Jazz are trying to work in promising young talent Derrick Favors to see if he really can be Kevin Garnett 2.0. The problem: Paul Millsap is already there and playing at a very high level. Al Jefferson is a legitimate center and Gordon Hayward is continuing to develop. Mo Williams was a nice replacement for the departure of Devin Harris but this team is far too young and inexperienced to compete for anything more than the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.
16.) Golden State Warriors
Despite the fact that Golden State has chosen to build its franchise around two very injury-prone, albeit very talented, young players in Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut does not bode well for the team’s future as both are expected to begin the season injured. The Warriors have itself a nice young roster with Klay Thompson, David Lee and Harrison Barnes, but it won’t be enough to crack the playoffs if Curry or Bogut don’t get right soon.
17.) Minnesota Timberwolves
Ricky Rubio is out indefinitely as he recovers from last season’s knee injury and now Kevin Love will miss between six and eight weeks with a broken hand, which is about 15 games missed. The Love injury may be a blessing in disguise if Derrick Williams can find his niche when given a chance to start regularly. Expect an uphill battle for the Wolves after Love’s return, but Minnesota has an outside chance at that No. 8 spot in the West if they can beat out Utah and Golden State.
18.) Atlanta Hawks
Joe Johnson is gone but could this be addition by subtraction? Not likely. While the Hawks should still crack the playoffs in the East, they will be an easy out for a top team. Josh Smith should be a beast though and Lou Williams finally has a chance to get his minutes and should average around 20 a game in Johnon’s place.
19.) Milwaukee Bucks
Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Match made in heaven or sent from hell? It is definitely a scoring backcourt, but don’t expect them to guard anybody. Milwaukee could be an exciting team and should contend for a playoff spot in the shallow Eastern Conference. Look for Ersan Ilyasova to build on an outstanding breakout campaign from last season and fill the power forward spot in a small ball lineup for the undersized Bucks.
20.) Houston Rockets
James Harden, come on down! Here are your 15-20 shots a game, which should translate to over 20 points. Sorry we don’t have any quality veterans to surround you with, but you do get to run around with Jeremy Lin and a bunch of young guns that are athletic and play hard. We hope that you either lead us to the playoffs or bottom out, but please don’t give us another low lottery pick. Enjoy.
21.) Portland Trail-Blazers
Portland is rebuilding and reloading, but don’t expect a turnaround quite this quickly. The team has a perennial all-star in LaMarcus Aldridge down low and has now locked up Nicolas Batum on the wing long term, but The Blazers are inexperienced and young. Damian Lillard is an exciting rookie that should provide some early season highlight reels, but beyond those three – and maybe Wes Matthews – there isn’t too much for Portland natives to get excited about just yet.
22.) Phoenix Suns
It’s hard to see what the plan is here going forward. Michael Beasley should provide a nice scoring punch and Goran Dragic, as we saw at the end of last season, is a viable starting point guard. Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat form an above-average frontcourt, but this is no more than a lottery team for the foreseeable future.
23.) Toronto Raptors
The addition of Kyle Lowry gives the Raptors a much-needed playmaker, but it will have to overcome a lack of depth on the inside to make the playoffs. Rookie Jonas Valanciunas is hyped and could be the inside force to play off Andrea Bargnani’s outside game. Young and inconsistent will be the two words that ring loudest with our NBA franchise from the north.
24.) Detroit Pistons
An outside shot at contending for that eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, defense will probably be Detroit’s downfall. Andre Drummond may prove to be the perfect counterpart to Greg Monroe, but he is extremely raw. Brandon Knight may take a leap this year, but again, he and Rodney Stuckey make a less than formidable defensive backcourt, especially against all of the all-star backcourts in the east.
25.) New Orleans Hornets
The Hornets could be an exciting team, especially if Eric Gordon is able to stay healthy. Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson are the perfect big men to play small ball with, and Austin Rivers will get the minutes and the opportunity to learn on the fly. NO will be a fun team to watch, but won’t win too many games.
26.) Washington Wizards
An intriguing lottery team if the pieces fall into place. It will be tough with John Wall sidelined to begin the season, but with Bradley Beal, Nene, Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, the talent is definitely there, but they will struggle to score the ball consistently.
27.) Sacramento Kings
Has a team ever had more shoot-first “I gotta get me mine” players? Boogie Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton, Aaron Brooks, John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette. There are names and talent, but this team looks like it was put together by a third-grader.
28.) Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving, as great as he is, cannot win games alone. Getting Anderson Varejao healthy will be big, but this is a young team with inexperienced players at key positions. They are best suited to grow internally this season, and again – via the lottery – next season.
29.) Orlando Magic
Let the rebuilding process begin. Both Glen Davis and Aaron Afflalo will have chances to step up as the top two offensive options on the team. Al Harrington and J.J. Reddick are serviceable role players, but the general lack of talent on this team is frightening.
30.) Charlotte Bobcats
This team is bad. Like really bad, and with no light at the end of the tunnel for now (The 37 Bobcats fans in the world can thank Michael Jordan and his heinous personnel moves) Charlotte is in line for another top three selection.