Harden trade shakes up the top
Just three days before the 2012-13 season tipped off, we had a major shake-up to the NBA landscape.
Maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder will be better in the long run. And maybe James Harden isn't a max player on a team with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But Harden did so some of the heavy lifting himself, and the Thunder sure look like they'll take a small step backward this season.
That seemingly opens the door in the Western Conference for the Los Angeles Lakers, but we can't forget about the San Antonio Spurs, who looked unbeatable in late May. Beyond those three teams, there are three more -- the Clippers, Grizzlies and Nuggets -- who could challenge for a top spot if things go right.
The Eastern Conference is a lot more cut and dried, but there are as many as six teams -- the Celtics, Pacers, Nets, Knicks, Sixers and Bulls -- who could reasonably dream of facing the Miami Heat in the conference finals.
The great news is that this will all begin to sort itself out starting Tuesday night. Before we get there, here's how we see the 30 teams shaping up in the wake of a preseason that shed a few clues as to how things might go down.
• Aug. 6: Nets, Wolves Make Summer Moves
High jumps of the fall: Denver (+9), Houston (+7), Philadelphia (+5), Utah (+5)
Free falls of the fall: Orlando (-13), Dallas (-7), Minnesota(-4)
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averaged 97.2 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 97.6 points scored per 100 possessions in the preseason.
NBA.com's Power Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Monday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, contact him via twitter.
Pace: 98.6 (8), Off: 96.5 (21), Def: 92.6 (4)
LeBron James really has the ability to take his game to another level. If he plays an entire season like he played The Finals, attacking from the inside, there's no stopping the Miami offense. The only vulnerability with the Heat's positionless lineups is rebounding. They ranked 27th on the glass in the preseason.
Aug. 6: 1|
L.A. Lakers (0-8)|
Pace: 94.4 (28), Off: 92.1 (27), Def: 105.8 (30)
What's funny is that L.A. acquired Dwight Howard after our last Power Rankings, yet they were still the No. 3 team ... until Saturday night. You could say that the Harden trade was the Lakers' first win of the preseason. Their ceiling is high, but the health of their aging backcourt is crucial, because their bench is awful.
Aug. 6: 3|
San Antonio (4-3)|
Pace: 100.1 (2), Off: 102.3 (5), Def: 95.8 (12)
Here's one reason why the Spurs can be just as good (or better) as they were last year: Manu Ginobili is healthy. This team was ridiculously good (plus-15.7 points per 100 possessions) with Ginobili on the floor last season, but that was only for 34 games. Of course, defensive regression is still very much an issue.
Aug. 6: 4|
Oklahoma City (4-3)|
Pace: 94.5 (27), Off: 104.9 (2), Def: 101.8 (24)
Can Kevin Martin carry the Thunder's second unit like James Harden did? Harden played 464 minutes with neither Kevin Durant nor Russell Westbrook on the floor last season. That may not seem like a ton, but Durant (38 minutes) and Westbrook (13) barely played at all with neither of the other two on the floor.
Aug. 6: 2|
Pace: 98.1 (9), Off: 95.1 (22), Def: 101.0 (23)
It will be interesting if JaVale McGee, with his new $44 million contract, isn't the starting center for the Nuggets. The Nuggets are the league's funnest team either way, but imagine how good they'd be if McGee finally started to realize his potential, especially defensively. Maybe that's asking too much.
Aug. 6: 14|
Pace: 95.2 (26), Off: 99.8 (12), Def: 95.9 (13)
By Tuesday night, we'll have a pretty good idea if the retooled Celtics have anyone (Jeff Green?) who can defend the new and improved LeBron. With how the Eastern Conference finals ended and how Ray Allen's tenure in Boston ended, it will be an intense and fascinating start to the season either way.
Aug. 6: 6|
L.A. Clippers (5-3)|
Pace: 96.4 (20), Off: 98.0 (17), Def: 96.3 (15)
Might Matt Barnes be the Clippers' best player on the wing? He looked like it in preseason. The question is if the Clippers can improve enough defensively to be counted as a true Western Conference contender. One problem from last season, 3-point defense, was still very much a problem in the preseason.
Aug. 6: 5|
Pace: 99.4 (4), Off: 101.0 (8), Def: 99.7 (21)
There's no better way for the Grizzlies to exorcise last Spring's demons than to begin the season against the Clippers on Wednesday. Memphis miraculously ranked sixth in preseason 3-point percentage, but obviously can't expect Mike Conley to keep shooting 71 percent. Quincy Pondexter's shooting will be key.
Aug. 6: 7|
Pace: 96.4 (21), Off: 93.1 (26), Def: 96.8 (16)
It's been said often that the Pacers benefited from being the healthiest team in the league last season. Well, Danny Granger played just two preseason games and still has pain in his left knee. And George Hill (thumb and hip) has yet to see the floor. Not surprisingly, the Indy offense was pretty ugly as a result.
Aug. 6: 8|
Pace: 93.3 (30), Off: 99.9 (11), Def: 104.7 (29)
Avery Johnson has some work to do, because the preseason did little to dispel the notion that the Nets would struggle defensively. We did see the potential for Deron Williams and Joe Johnson to be a pretty potent combination offensively, and Andray Blatche was surprisingly effective, but the D is going to be key.
Aug. 6: 10|
New York (3-3)|
Pace: 94.1 (29), Off: 98.7 (13), Def: 103.9 (27)
Amar'e Stoudemire injury? Meh. Tyson Chandler injury? Uh oh. Fortunately, Chandler should be OK for Thursday's opener in Brooklyn. The Knicks' first few weeks should be pretty tough, but they get a break with two games against the (likely) Bynum-less Sixers and two against the (possibly) Dirk-less Mavs.
Aug. 6: 11|
Pace: 97.6 (14), Off: 101.4 (6), Def: 93.5 (7)
We're going to find out early just what the Jazz are made of. After games against the shorthanded Mavs and rebuilding Hornets, they have a four-game stretch against the Spurs, Grizzlies, Lakers and Nuggets. Eight of their first 11 games are on the road, where they were 11-22 last year (losing 13 of their first 16).
Aug. 6: 17|
Pace: 96.5 (19), Off: 105.1 (1), Def: 93.4 (6)
The good: The Sixers were arguably the best team of the preseason and Thaddeus Young looked absolutely terrific. The bad: It doesn't look like Andrew Bynum, who still has pain in his knee and hasn't even started running yet, is going to be very healthy this season. The ugly: Spencer Hawes' mullet.
Aug. 6: 18|
Pace: 95.9 (23), Off: 94.9 (23), Def: 90.3 (2)
Clearly, defense wasn't a problem for the Bulls in preseason. Offense was another issue, but after shooting a brutal 6-for-46 from 3-point range in their first three games, they scored a decently efficient 103 points per 100 possessions over their last four. And a soft schedule could help them get off to a quick start.
Aug. 6: 12|
Pace: 99.2 (5), Off: 97.9 (18), Def: 95.7 (11)
One of the more interesting things to follow early in the season is how Larry Drew uses all of his possible backcourt combinations, and if any of them can be decent defensively. The frontcourt is obviously more straightforward, but Anthony Tolliver - a late addition to the roster - could be a valuable glue guy off the bench.
Aug. 6: 15|
Pace: 100.3 (3), Off: 93.7 (25), Def: 92.2 (3)
You have to believe that Rick Carlisle will make the most of what he's got, but it's not clear exactly what that is. Dirk Nowitzki is out and we don't know when he'll be himself again. Delonte West could be gone when final rosters are due Monday night. And the Mavs are relying on the inefficient O.J. Mayo for offense.
Aug. 6: 9|
Pace: 95.3 (25), Off: 97.7 (19), Def: 84.2 (1)
The No. 1 defense of the preseason? Well, let's point out that the Wolves played two games against the Granger-less Pacers, two against the Rose-less Bulls, and one against Maccabi Haifa. With Kevin Love out, we'll see if Brandon Roy is ready to carry an NBA offense again. He's looked pretty good so far.
Aug. 6: 13|
Pace: 98.9 (7), Off: 104.1 (3), Def: 95.2 (9)
Over the last 10 full seasons (2001-02 through '10-11), 21 teams lost fewer than two preseason games, and 19 of the 21 made the playoffs that year. The lone exceptions were the '03-04 Jazz (who finished ninth at 42-40) and the '10-11 Jazz (who lost Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams mid-season). Hmmmm...
Aug. 6: 20|
Golden State (6-2)|
Pace: 96.6 (18), Off: 101.0 (7), Def: 94.1 (8)
If everything goes right for the Warriors, they could be a playoff team. But knowing that Andrew Bogut has yet to play and Stephen Curry could only make it through 94 minutes of preseason action before re-injuring his right ankle, the chances of that look pretty slim. This team can still shoot, though.
Aug. 6: 19|
Pace: 97.6 (13), Off: 91.6 (28), Def: 96.1 (14)
Whether or not teams are already regretting passing on him in the draft, Andre Drummond looks like he could be pretty good some day. He's already fun to watch. And how did those boxing workouts work out for Charlie Villanueva? Well, he shot 9-for-41 (1-for-17 from 3-point range) in the preseason.
Aug. 6: 22|
New Orleans (4-4)|
Pace: 95.5 (24), Off: 89.0 (30), Def: 92.7 (5)
As you can tell from the numbers, a few of the Hornets' preseason games were absolutely brutal, a trend that should continue when the games count. Anthony Davis looked pretty darn good against the Heat on Friday, but maybe cut down on the jumpers? 38 of his 92 preseason shots came from outside the paint.
Aug. 6: 21|
Pace: 100.8 (1), Off: 103.1 (4), Def: 99.6 (19)
With four talented rookies and expanded roles for Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik (who actually plays offense when asked), the Rockets were already going to be fascinating to watch this season. Now, they've got Royce White's beard and James Harden's beard on the same team. Have you ordered League Pass yet?
Aug. 6: 29|
Pace: 97.4 (15), Off: 100.5 (10), Def: 101.8 (25)
Damian Lillard could have the most fun matchups of opening week. He begins his NBA career by facing Steve Nash on Wednesday, Russell Westbrook on Friday, and Jeremy Lin on Saturday. The Blazers' interior defense, which allowed 48 points in the paint per game in the preseason, won't be so fun.
Aug. 6: 23|
Pace: 97.7 (12), Off: 97.2 (20), Def: 97.5 (17)
Meet Tobias Harris, the non-rookie starter who you've probably never seen play. After a quiet rookie season, Harris is set to start at small forward this year, because Scott Skiles prefers to have Mike Dunleavy come off the bench. And Harris gets to match up with Paul Pierce twice in the Bucks' first five games.
Aug. 6: 24|
Pace: 97.4 (16), Off: 101.0 (9), Def: 98.6 (18)
DeMarcus Cousins averaged a beastly 24 points and 13 rebounds per 36 minutes in the preseason. But he had a couple of rough shooting nights and, for some reason, attempted seven 3-pointers. The Kings beat the Lakers three times, and will face them (for real) twice more in their first 11 games.
Aug. 6: 28|
Pace: 99.1 (6), Off: 98.2 (15), Def: 95.4 (10)
The Suns might lead the league in reclamation projects, led by Michael Beasley. They also might lead the league in points allowed, playing at a fast pace with few real defenders on their roster. And with the Rockets acquiring James Harden, there's an open spot at the bottom of the Western Conference.
Aug. 6: 26|
Pace: 96.2 (22), Off: 94.6 (24), Def: 100.7 (22)
After the Cavs start the season with two home games that would feature great point guard matchups (Washington and Chicago) if the other point guards were healthy, they play 10 of their next 12 on the road. That could make for an ugly November for a team that's going to struggle to score no matter where they play.
Aug. 6: 25|
Pace: 97.0 (17), Off: 98.1 (16), Def: 102.7 (26)
Dirk Nowitzki's injury was almost expected and Kevin Love's injury isn't too tough to swallow. But given his need for a breakout season and the uncertainty about when he'll be back at full speed, John Wall's injury is just depressing. And who knows when and how much Nene is going to play this season.
Aug. 6: 27|
Pace: 97.9 (10), Off: 98.4 (14), Def: 104.7 (28)
Glen Davis put up big numbers (16.9 points in just 26.0 minutes per game) in the preseason, but it's his back-up - Andrew Nicholson - who could blossom into the most interesting player on the Orlando roster. Yeah, that doesn't say much about the Orlando roster, but that's the idea, right? When's the Lottery?
Aug. 6: 16|
Pace: 97.8 (11), Off: 90.6 (29), Def: 99.6 (20)
The Cats lost seven straight games to end the preseason, but Kemba Walker had a couple of strong performances last week. One (24 points on 7-for-16 shooting) came against the Heat defense and the other (20 points and seven assists) came while starting alongside Ramon Sessions against the Bucks.
Aug. 6: 30|