Throughout the 2013-14 NBA season, co-editor Zak Kolesar will be ranking the 15 Eastern Conference teams on a week-by-week basis every Sunday. After each team’s ranking, Kolesar will give a brief description of why he chose the team at that specific spot and will provide the week’s previous ranking (PR) along with the MVP for each team on that specific week.
This week is a special edition of the 2013-14 Eastern Conference Rankings, as I will be taking the off time to put together offseason power rankings and also preseason rankings right before the season starts in late October. So without further adieu, here are my early favorites, as well as a nice surprise for Cleveland Cavaliers fans in my first power ranking ever.
1. Miami Heat – 2012-13 record: 66-16
This team will always be the favorite as long as they have LeBron James on their squad. He is playing at a legendarily high level of basketball right now, and this team just can’t fade away even with their backs held up against the wall. It’s incredible what this team did in back-to-back series against the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs. I smell a three-peat for the King in MVPs and world championships, as there is no team in the Eastern Conference that can prove they can step up to the Heat’s level of play.
2. Indiana Pacers – 2012-13 record 49:-32
The Pacers had some slips during the regular season, especially with injuries to key players. After hitting a stride and being the best team built for the playoffs, the Pacers looked like they were unbeatable with the middle clogged up by Roy Hibbert. This is why it is a good idea for the Heat to pounce on Greg Oden. Without a true center on the Heat, it looked as if Indiana was the team that matched up best against the Heat more than any other team in the 2013 playoffs. This team saw their elite player in Paul George transform into an NBA star by the end of the postseason. A lot of eyes will be on him next season, and with returning David West, this roster is one of the most dangerous in the NBA.
3. Chicago Bulls – 2012-13 record: 45-37
According to 82games.com, the Bulls best five-man unit during the 2011-12 season consisted of Derrick Rose, Ronnie Brewer, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. With Brewer now on the Oklahoma City Thunder(after starting on the New York Knicks during the 2012-13 season), Chicago had problems at the two last season with a rotating bunch of Marco Bellinelli, Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich (who ran the point). Hinrich is still on the Bulls, but Hamilton is unsigned at this point. With Rose back and healthy, this can be a very devastating squad if they can find a two to fit their lineup. Can Tony Snell come in and contribute right away? We’ll have to see.
4. Brooklyn Nets – 2013-13 record: 41-40
I think people keep on forgetting this team had Joe Johnson after the subpar shooting he had with the Nets. I think he is one of the most important players on this squad, and at age 32, he’s not getting any younger. This is a bad sign for the Nets, as they took on two more aging stars in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to match with Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. This team could quite possibly get ran off the court due to their seasoned veterans, and teams will like to push the pace against them from the onset of games. This won’t bode well for the Nets, who already have a center that doesn’t transition well from offense to defense.
5. Atlanta Hawks – 2012-13 record: 44-38
The Hawks lost their hometown native in Josh Smith in free agency to the Detroit Pistons. Although this move makes this team a lot less threatening in the already-weak Eastern Conference, they still have one of the best centers in the league in Al Horford. In the second round, the Hawks were able to add one of the best big men available in the draft in Mike Muscala who will be available to play this season unlike Lucas Nogueira, who still has two years left to play in Spain unless the Hawks negotiate a buyout. The bench isn’t deep, but Lou Williams is a solid sixth man. The Hawks now have another formidable bench player from the draft in Dennis Schroder from Germany, who could become the next young point guard star in the NBA, because of their offer sheet match with the Milwaukee Bucks. But the Hawks can improve on their 2012-13 ranking with their addition of Paul Millsap replacing Smith’s absence. He is one of my favorite players in the league and will be able to play expendable basketball for the Hawks.
6. New York Knicks – 2012-13 record: 54.28
The Knicks are going to be a disaster this season. J.R. Smith, in no way, deserves how much he will be making in 2013 and 2014. He’ll have an offseason, and the already depleted bench corp that the Knicks have will suffer even more. But wait, they picked up headache Metta World Peace who is in no way going to contribute as well as he did on the Lakers last season. The pickup of Andrea Bargnani via trade was not worth what they gave up (I liked Steve Novak in NY), as he had his worst season since his sophomore year thanks to injuries. Carmelo Anthony will be gone after this year, as he will realize once again that he can’t win even if it’s in a big city.
7. Milwaukee Bucks – 2012-13 record: 34-38
The Bucks lost Monta Ellis (was more hurting the team) and J.J. Redick this offseason, but they are still a playoff team in a weak conference. Larry Sanders is a force to reckon with, Brandon Jennings will most likely remain with the Bucks, Ersan Illyasova fills out the small forward position nicely, but O.J. Mayo may breakout in Milwaukee. This team watched a lot of their roster deteriorate starting in the middle of the regular season, but things could get a lot worse for the Bucks, so they need to cash in on yet another opportunity to make the playoffs.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers – 2012-13 record: 24-58
No bias here, but this team could actually be No. 6 in the East if everything is working as it should be. That means the big injuries have to be non-existent. If Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum can participate on the court at the same time in the starting lineup for the majority of the season, this team has the potential to push for 50 wins. The bench is much more filled out (except at the small forward), so the second unit will be an already-tested crew that knows what it feels like to play against starters. This is an exciting time in the Land, and a big offseason move in 2014 could net the Cavaliers a top four spot in the East.
9. Washington Wizards – 2012-13 record: 29-53
I actually debated putting Washington in the playoffs, but the free agency period Cleveland had was the deal breaker. Although Washington has now gotten two of the players I have wanted in the last two drafts (Bradley Beal and Otto Porter), they needed to do more than resign Martell Webster to a multi-year deal. This team is definitely moving in the right direction, and the backcourt and wings have the youth and talent to contend in the East in the playoff race for years to come.
10. Toronto Raptors – 2012-13 record: 34-48
I liked what I saw from Jonas Valanciunas during LVSL play. I think it is finally time for him to show teams that passed on him that he is ready to contend among the dominant Cs in the East. Glanced-over acquisitions Tyler Hansbrough and Steve Novak will have this team a little more balanced than they were last season, even without Bargnani. It’s just that there is a new wave of bottom playoff teams in the East, and the Raptors are still just on the verge of riding that wave. We will see how a full season with Rudy Gay goes over.
11. Boston Celtics – 2012-13 record: 41-40
There’s a slight possibility I may be overexaggerating the absences of Garntett, Pierce and Doc Rivers, but this team did what it needed to do in order to not get screwed in trying to usher in a new era. This is Boston, so they’re going to be able to attract some big free agents in the coming seasons. A young coach in Brad Stevens, who was courted by two other unnamed teams, will help the rebuilding roster that (now) includes Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley. With the additions of MarShon Brooks and Kris Humphries via the trade with the Nets, this team will be able to put out a couple solid lineups on the court each night. But the team knows that with acquiring three first-round picks (with the possibility to swap a fourth), they are preparing ahead for a quick, and painless, rebuilding process.
12. Detroit Pistons — 2012-13 record: 29-53
I thought this team could have joined the Cavs and Wizards in teams looking to move forward, but the Pistons acquired one of the worst shooters away from the rim in Smith. He may have converted on over 60 percent of his shots at the rim, but he shots in the 30s and 20s everywhere else. They have two dominant paint scoreres in Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, so they didn’t need a player who can’t contribute on the perimeter, Detroit’s biggest weakness last season. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could work out well for the Pistons, though, but one of bigs will have to go sometime or later.
13. Philadelphia 76ers – 2012-13 record: 34-48
The 76ers made the right move for the future, but giving up their All-Star point guard in a trade that landed them the sliding center Nerlens Noel just nets them another player who won’t be able to start the season and is a big joins the Philadelphia circus. This team melted down during the latter part of the season in an attempt to make a push at the playoffs, but with the additios of Michael Carter-Williams and Noel, this team is well on their way to rebuilding their squad after a season of disappoiintments a year prior. It’s just not going to be this year.
14. Orlando Magic – 2012-13 record: 20-62
The Magic are on the up-and-up evening after having one of the least deep rosters in the NBA last season. The Magic scored big time on landing Victor Oladipo with the No. 2 overall pick. They will have a pretty young, and solid, starting five next season. Nikola Vucevic played great last season, and looks to be the next generation of dominant seven-footers in the League. Jameer Nelson, Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo make this a solid seven on a squad that became really thin when Howard left. Now, this team is on the upswing, but it’s going to talk a while, and a few trades, before this hodgepodge team comes together.
15. Charlotte Bobcats – 2012-13 record: 21-61
The Bobcats made one of the most boneheaded moves of the 2013 NBA Draft by selecting Cody Zeller with the No. 1 overall pick and signing Al Jefferson to a three-year, $40.5 million deal — a deal that doesn’t fix any defensive problems for the Bobcats. And what’s with the Zeller signing? He will have to play behind Jefferson and Bismack Biyombo. They passed on Nerlens Noel at No. 4, so this franchise still looks as if they will pay for their choices this season and sit at the bottom once again.
Make sure to sound off in the comment section below whether or not you agree with the rankings. Make sure to tune in before the season starts to see if any of your teams moved up or down in the rankings.