NBA Power Rankings – FINAL

by Dan M | Posted on Monday, April 27th, 2015


By Jimmy Spencer
The NBA’s actual season begins now.      After 5.5 months of shuffling, avoiding injuries and disguising postseason strategies, the playoffs begin. As dominant as Golden State was in a historic regular season, the field of tightly wound teams out West is wide open, and San Antonio isn’t giving its title away. Meanwhile, LeBron James seeks a fifth consecutive East crown against the top-seeded Hawks and a relatively shoddy cast of other “playoff” teams. Here’s how every team ranks heading into the playoffs (or draft lottery).

1.  Warriors (67-15) HIGH: 1 / LOW: 7
Way better than expected (preseason ranking: 7) — No one saw history coming. The Warriors became one of just 10 teams ever to finish with 67 or more wins. Steve Kerr was hired to transition Golden State from playoff squad to championship contender, and he — along with Alvin Gentry, Ron Adams and the rest of the coaching staff — has done exactly that. The ball movement slogan that Kerr built his preseason around came true as the Warriors’ offense became even more efficient and deadly. But hidden behind the 3-pointers of likely MVP Steph Curry and Splash Bros. counterpart Klay Thompson is one of the league’s elite defenses. The combo of a quick pace and staunch defense led to a 10.1 average point differential. As competitive and tight as the pack of West playoff teams is, Golden State still finished with an impressive 11-game lead over the second-place Rockets.

2.  Spurs (55-27) HIGH: 1 / LOW: 13
Just as expected (preseason ranking: 1) — No one wants to face San Antonio in the playoffs. Until the defending champs are ousted, the Spurs should be considered favorites. It was somewhat predictable too; Gregg Popovich’s dynasty doesn’t waste time impressing anyone until springtime. Though the surge fell short on the last day vs. the Pelicans, resulting in a sixth seed instead of a second seed, the Spurs will likely end up the toughest out once again. Injuries bit them throughout the season, but now Kawhi Leonard leads a Spurs team clicking at the right time.What else is new?

3. Cavaliers (53-29) HIGH: 2 / LOW: 18
Just slightly below expectations (preseason ranking: 3) — The over/under for the Cavs was set at 58.5 wins prior to the season. You read here to take the under because rhythm wasn’t going to be easy with two stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love who had never won before. The caveat, of course, was an 82-game season that would give Cleveland plenty of time to figure things out. And that’s exactly what happened, thanks to LeBron James getting MVP-ish again and the transformation that occurred after the additions of J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert.

4. Rockets (56-26) HIGH: 1 / LOW: 11
Better than expected (preseason ranking: 8) — There’s a compelling argument for James Harden at MVP simply because he shouldered such a huge load for the 56-win Rockets. He’s still not the most efficient scorer, but he’s clearly the most singularly valuable piece to a West playoff team. The Rockets overachieved with a top-three record in the league even with Dwight Howard playing just 41 games. Harden also got a little weird this season, actually playing defense..didn’t expect that.
5. Hawks (60-22) HIGH: 1 / LOW: 20
No one saw this coming (preseason ranking: 20 … predicted worse than the Knicks!) — There was no way to foresee the Hawks as one of the NBA’s elite teams and the No. 1 seed out East. The forecast was somewhat solid with a chance of average, but the Hawks were the first to 50 wins (by March 9) because Coach of the Year candidate Mike Budenholzer orchestrated a rhythm of strong defense and balanced offense reminiscent of what Gregg Popovich does in San Antonio. The Hawks rested quite liberally down the stretch, but the concern is that Atlanta is entering the postseason playing its worst basketball of the season, 7-8 since losing to the league-best Warriors on March 18. Losing Thabo Sefolosha, who helped build Atlanta’s defensive identity, is a major blow that makes it even more important Paul Millsap returns healthy.

6.  Clippers (56-26) HIGH: 2 / LOW: 16
Just slightly below expectations (preseason ranking: 2) — It’s hard to say a 56-win season didn’t meet expectations, especially when it’s the Clippers franchise, but their regular season was funky in terms of consistency and power. The Clippers were always just good enough but rarely wowed, especially with Blake Griffin out. They quietly hung around, though, before this late-season surge and now healthy, they’ve finished the regular season winning 14 of their last 15 games. Chris Paul isn’t a frontrunner to win MVP, but he certainly deserves votes in the top five. There are no excuses for the Clippers this postseason.

7.  Grizzlies (55-27) HIGH: 1 / LOW: 14
Better than expected (preseason ranking: 14) — The preseason comparison was that of a Will Smith song: starts off average, gets good and ends predictably. So far, there’s nothing alien about this standard Memphis season. The Grizzlies have succeeded on the back of their subtle, yet so consistently great, big three of Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. But the predictable finish remains likely this postseason, because the Grizzlies still lack that superstar go-to scorer or the three-point shooting it takes to win in the playoffs. Their interior is the toughest in the West, but that strength of this Grizzlies’ era hasn’t been enough to crown Memphis as king of the West before, so why now?

8. Bulls (50-32) HIGH: 5 / LOW: 15
Didn’t hit expectations (preseason ranking: 5) — The Bulls remain elite when they’re healthy, and after a long stretch of traditional Chicago hurt, the squad is moving relatively well to end the season. Jimmy Butler belongs on the All-NBA Team, Pau Gasol was resurrected and played in 78 games, and Nikola Mirotic stepped up to save the Bulls during times of injury. But the big news: Derrick Rose may have played in only 51 games, but he’s actually playing in April.

9. Trail Blazers (51-31) High: 1 / Low: 9
Just as expected (preseason ranking: 6) — The Blazers’ injury list is a starting lineup that could win a playoff series. Portland fell off in the second half, like last season, but this time it’s hard to blame it. Injuries poured like a Northwest storm on what was shaping up to be a legitimate season of title contention. Losing Wesley Matthews for the season was crushing, and the hits kept coming with injuries to his replacement Arron Afflalo (potential late April return) and Dorell Wright (early May?). LaMarcus Aldridge is still playing, but with a serious thumb injury that he put off getting fixed until after the season. Teams don’t limp into winning a title.

10.  Pelicans (45-37) High: 10 / Low: 18
Better than expected (preseason ranking: 13) — No team named the Pelicans has ever made the postseason — anywhere, ever. History was made. Anthony Davis said after these Pelicans took the eighth seed that the playoffs were the goal he’d been building toward since he got there. NBA coaches tell me often that just a single playoff series for a young player is worth half a regular season in terms of development. For that reason alone, the first round against Golden State is valuable to Davis and the Pelicans.

11. Mavs (50-32) HIGH: 4 / LOW: 11
Just as expected (preseason ranking: 9) — Rajon Rondo raised expectations in Dallas and still hasn’t delivered. The Mavericks went from a top-three offensive team before the All-Star break to below average (17th in offensive rating) after the break. The defense looked rough, too, ranked in the bottom third of the league in March and April. But as Mark Cuban will likely blog to season-ticket holders about: The thing about this Dallas veteran roster is that these guys have the potential to push a bit more out of the dripping gas tank in the playoffs.

12. Thunder (45-37) HIGH: 4 / LOW: 28
Not even close to expectations (preseason ranking: 4) — OKC may have missed the playoffs and is without Kevin Durant, but it still finishes the season playing better than five of the East playoff teams. The whole season was a bummer; no team with a healthy Durant and Russell Westbrook would ever miss the playoffs. Which is exactly why this season is a likely aberration in a chain of success that will last more than a decade if the duo stays together. Westbrook’s run with the mask couldn’t be sustained once news came that Durant wouldn’t return this season. (Note: Psychology is a wild motivator. If Durant was scheduled to come back for the first round, there’s no way OKC loses drive and misses out on the playoffs.)

13.Wizards (46-36) HIGH: 6 / LOW: 16
Worse than expected (preseason ranking: 10) — There was significant hype surrounding the Wizards as the next power of the East. It started to happen early in the season, but then the bullying interior of Washington was cancelled out by lousy, sloppy offense. The Wizards’ scoring was among the worst in the league in February and March before graduating to “pretty bad” for eight games in April. The criminal part of this is that the East was so awful that the Wizards may have actually received a false sense of self, one that will only be furthered by probably advancing past the even more woeful Raptors.

14. Celtics (40-42) HIGH: 14 / LOW: 28
Better than expected (preseason ranking: 26) — Rebuilding, without tanking, was enough to make the playoffs in this year’s Eastern Conference. The Celtics kept hoarding draft picks, turning to Brad Stevens, who kept shrugging and whispering, “Hey, just have fun out there, eh?” Yet somehow the Celtics caught enough March fire to push into the postseason.
Fans aren’t mourning the loss of Rajon Rondo, either. Good times are coming with insane offseason flexibility. This postseason becomes simply added entertainment with zero expectations.

15. Raptors (49-33) HIGH: 2 / LOW: 17
Just as expected (preseason ranking: 16) — After an elite 37-17 record as of Feb. 20, the Raptors finished the season losing 16 of their final 28 games and only beat one winning team in that time. Yes, that’s just one winning team in nearly two months … just as they enter the postseason.
You can’t control having played bad teams, but the primer won’t help get Toronto ready for the playoffs. The Raptors’ offense is going to be fine. It’s the defense that caused Toronto’s hideous collapse, ranked 24th in the league with a post-All-Star defensive rating of 105.8 points allowed per 100 possessions.

16. Nets (38-44) HIGH: 13 / LOW: 26
Still worse than expected (preseason ranking: 13) — The champagne the Nets drank after making the playoffs probably tasted incredibly stale despite being such an expensive year. Watching the 38-win Nets play in the postseason will look like car sickness feels. Poor Lionel Hollins landed with a funky roster. Though Brooklyn wasn’t able to trade any of their overpriced and not-fully-functional pieces, credit Hollins for rallying the Nets late in perhaps the worst conference in the history of games played with round objects.

17.  Bucks (41-41) HIGH: 12 / LOW: 29
Way better than expected (preseason ranking: 29) — Even with a second-half fade, these Bucks were still far more impressive than anyone anticipated … and that was with the loss of Jabari Parker. Highlight factory Giannis Antetokounmpo still isn’t a name anyone feels confident pronouncing, but get used to saying “Greek Freak” at least, as this kid will become one of the league’s best players within three years. There may be little impressive about Milwaukee heading into the playoffs, though. After reaching 31-23 just after the All-Star break, the Bucks went cold and just barely salvaged a .500 record thanks to winning five of their last eight.

18. Jazz (38-44) HIGH: 13 / LOW: 27
Better than expected (preseason ranking: 27) — Someone text Adam Silver. There should be an appeal made to get this year’s darling, the Jazz, to replace the Nets for the NBA’s final playoff spot. Utah finished with the same 38 wins as Brooklyn (half-hearted apologies to the Thunder and Suns, of course). It was incredible to watch the job Quin Snyder did in rallying Utah and developing guys like Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood alongside Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. As far as non-playoff, Cinderella teams in the NBA go, the Jazz were one of the more fun ones to rally behind.

19. Suns (39-43) HIGH: 9 / LOW: 20
Worse than expected (preseason ranking: 11) — It turns out that playing three point guards, two of whom didn’t really want to be there, was a bad policy. Well, ya live and ya learn. Phoenix burst onto the scene last year unexpectedly, and for a little while this season it seemed like they’d be in the mix once again. That’s when the defensive wheels ruptured and Goran Dragic and management got feisty. Now, the Suns are quickly back in a rebuilding mode

20. Pacers (38-44) HIGH: 12 / LOW: 27
Just as expected (preseason ranking: 22) — Credit Frank Vogel for getting this team to even sniff the postseason. It’s ultimately a disappointment the Paul George’s made-for-a-TV-movie comeback never fully got a chance to happen.
But there was just too much going against Indy without its superstar and with the void left by the ghost of Lance Stephenson. It was supposed to be a lost season…Vogel again proved his worth by nearly making something of nothing.

21.  Heat (37-45) HIGH: 7 / LOW: 21
Worse than expected (preseason ranking: 17) — Losing arguably the league’s best player since Michael Jordan will leave a big hole in your lineup. That’s obvious. We knew going into this season that the departure of LeBron James would slide the Heat out of contention and into the bottom of the East playoff picture.
We also knew that Dwyane Wade would probably not play more than three-quarters of the season. But we didn’t know the scary medical condition that would take away Chris Bosh or all the other injuries along the way.
That’s what kept Miami out of the playoffs.

22. Kings (29-53) HIGH: 9 / LOW: 27
Just as expected (preseason ranking: 23) — Kings fans have become accustomed to their big postseason moments coming when the lottery balls shake out. The playoff drought has now been extended to nine years. And whether it’s good or bad news, this season’s 29 wins are the most for the franchise since the 38-win, 2007-08 Kings of Ron Artest, Brad Miller, Beno Udrih, Spencer Hawes and, who could forget, Quincy Douby. Sacramento’s year played out just how it looked entering the season: DeMarcus Cousins is royalty among paupers. He was a top-five player this season, but that’s about it when it comes to story lines (except for three coaches and plenty of management personnel moves).

23. Nuggets (30-52) High: 12 / Low: 28
Way below expectations (preseason ranking: 12) — There was always probably too much talent in the West for these Nuggets to really contend for a playoff spot, but that’s letting this team off too easily. Denver went from a fringe playoff squad to mile-high air sickness in the time it takes to chant “quit.” The Nuggets were just two games under .500 in mid-January before the implosion began, going 12-32 the rest of the way. You can blame Brian Shaw or the players who stopped playing for him before he was fired; you just can’t blame injuries this time around.

24. Pistons (32-50) HIGH: 17 / LOW: 30
Worse than expected (preseason ranking: 21) — Detroit was about as AWOL as a Stan Van Gundy necktie down the stretch. The season was a one-turn roller-coaster with a slow start at 3-19 before the jagged swing that shoved out Josh Smith at the time things turned things around.
The Pistons peaked out of that turn, winning 20 of 34 through the All-Star break, and moved back into the East playoff hunt. Then the roller-coaster crashed violently like one of Smith’s jump shots and the Pistons ended up losing 17 of their final 26 games. But hey, Andre Drummond was a fantasy star at least.

25. Hornets (33-49) HIGH: 16 / LOW: 28
Way below expectations, even for Charlotte: (preseason ranking: 18) — It seems like just yesterday that Hornets fans were dreaming about Lance Stephenson blowing into guys’ ears for Charlotte-version playoff memes. How quickly that became a major disappointment. Stephenson was one of the biggest free-agent busts in recent memory, and the Hornets quickly fell to basketball irrelevance again.

26. Magic (25-57) HIGH: 19 / LOW: 29
Just as expected (preseason ranking: 28) — This season was never supposed to be about wins. The real focus was about developing young stars. In that respect, Orlando had a good year: Nikola Vucevic is now a cornerstone, Victor Oladipo raised his offensive game, and Elfrid Payton became an 11.4-point, 8.4-assist and 5.5-rebound machine after the All-Star break. Jacque Vaughn lost his job, but credit him for individual development even if he couldn’t spin it together to be competitive. More growth and another lottery pick should move Orlando a step forward toward next season.

27. Lakers (21-61) HIGH: 23 / LOW: 30
Just as expected (preseason ranking: 25) — Don’t be surprised when cheap pizza turns your stomach into a pretzel, and don’t be surprised when a team drained of talent does the same. There was a smidgen of hope that Kobe Bryant could somehow rally at 36 years old coming off of a significant injury, but when that didn’t happen (lottery pick Julius Randle went down immediately) the Lakers became more about keeping a top-five pick trying to win.

28.  76ers (18-64) HIGH: 23 / LOW: 30
Just as expected (preseason ranking: 28) — There was no hiding what this year was about: upload some great Joel Embiid vines to show off individual development and swallow enough losses to get another version of Embiid or Nerlens Noel. The Sixers have a bottom-three record, so a top pick could actually mean ridiculous big-man depth via another blue-chip paint crusher like Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor.

29. Knicks (17-65) HIGH: 17 / LOW: 30
Embarrassingly below already low expectations (preseason ranking: 19) — The Knicks threw one last big L on top of a season of magnificent losing, doing so by actually winning a game that hurt their lottery odds. New York was the punchline of the 2014-15 NBA regular season. The triangle was a three-point symbol of failure: 1. No real talent; 2. No coaching and management strategy; 3. Carmelo Anthony uninspired and lost for half the season.
To be fair to both Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher though, they didn’t have enough time to prep for all that brokenness. The saying becomes more true than ever: Truly, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

30. T’wolves (16-66) HIGH: 22 / LOW: 30
Below even very low expectations (preseason ranking: 24) — It was close, but the Wolves finished just 51 games out of first place this season. The expectations of the post-Kevin Love era were set to “lottery,” especially in the loaded West. But the league’s worst record at 16 wins is still a bit of a surprise.
Of course, in reality, it’s worked out perfectly: Young pieces emerged, and they’ll get a top pick. Rookie of the Year favorite Andrew Wiggins and fellow rookie Zach LaVine bring some promise.


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