NBA power rankings 2022: Improved Detroit Pistons lead ‘rebuilding’ tier

Detroit Free Press

It’s Year 3 of general manager Troy Weaver’s “restoring,” and the Detroit Pistons are finally ready to compete.

That was the main message during media day last week. The Pistons have one of the NBA’s best young cores — including two 2022 lottery picks in Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren — and several high-level veterans who will raise the team’s floor. They should avoid the depth issues that hurt them during the previous two seasons. The organization isn’t measuring success by a playoff berth yet, but the expectation is the team is good enough to compete every night.

The NBA has great parity today, as more than half of the league is good enough to conceivably make a deep postseason run. The Eastern Conference is particularly strong, and the Pistons will have few easy games on their schedule this season.

Ahead of the Pistons’ preseason slate beginning Tuesday with a visit to the Knicks in New York, it’s time for NBA power rankings entering the 2022-23 season. Here’s where all 30 teams stand.

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1. Golden State Warriors

The defending champs parted with several key role players this offseason, most notably Gary Payton II (Portland) and Otto Porter Jr. (Toronto). Their recent lottery picks — James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody — along with offseason acquisitions Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green, will have to pick up the slack.

2. Boston Celtics

Head coach Ime Udoka’s year-long suspension has cast a shadow over what was previously a strong summer for Boston. Malcolm Brogdon will make one of the NBA’s best defenses more formidable, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will attempt to lead the Celtics back to the Finals.

3. Milwaukee Bucks

Ex-Piston Khris Middleton’s postseason knee injury hurt Milwaukee’s repeat bid. But Middleton is now (mostly) healthy, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is still Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks will be among the title favorites again.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid is an MVP-caliber player, finishing runner-up to Nikola Jokic in MVP voting the past two seasons, and James Harden will look to prove he’s the perfect second banana and healthy after a hamstring injury limited him last season. De’Anthony Melton was one of the more underrated offseason acquisitions, and P.J. Tucker will boost their defense. The Sixers are bonafide contenders.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

How will Kawhi Leonard look after missing the entirety of the 2021-22 season with a partial ACL tear in his right knee? If he resumes his place as arguably the league’s best two-way superstar, the Clippers will soar. They finished 42-40 last season despite Paul George suiting up for just 31 games. Their roster depth is unrivaled.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Since drafting Ja Morant, the Grizzlies have consistently punched above their weight. Desmond Bane’s breakout season helped Memphis surge to 56 wins last season — second-most in the NBA. They’ll have to survive the early part of the season without Jaren Jackson Jr., who is recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot.

7. Brooklyn Nets

Despite the offseason drama, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving remain in Nets uniforms entering the season. The Nets have been derailed by bad fortune, but if they can solve their chemistry woes and stay healthy, they’ll have as good a chance at winning the championship as any team in the league.

8. Phoenix Suns

Deandre Ayton was predicted by many to depart Phoenix in free agency, but he’s back on a max deal. Phoenix won a league-best 64 games last season, but fell to the Mavericks in the second round. The biggest question for the Suns: How healthy and effective will Chris Paul be in his 18th season?

9. Dallas Mavericks

They lost their second-leading scorer, Jalen Brunson, to New York in free agency. But the Mavericks still have Luka Doncic. Tim Hardaway Jr. and ex-Pistons Spencer Dinwiddie and Christian Wood, a newcomer, will have to pick up the slack.

10. Miami Heat

The East’s winningest regular season team last season had a quiet offseason and lost one of their best role players in Tucker. A comeback season by Victor Oladipo could help the Heat remain in contention.

11. Denver Nuggets

One of the biggest wild cards, the Nuggets’ postseason hopes rely on Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. looking like their past selves after returning from injury.

12. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves made one of the biggest and most surprising offseason moves by trading for three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Will the French center mesh with big man Karl-Anthony Towns? Many are skeptical.

13. New Orleans Pelicans

After starting the season 3-16, the Pelicans finished 33-30 and made the playoffs with a play-in tourney run before falling to the Suns in six games. With Zion Williamson finally healthy, they’re positioned to make a big leap.

14. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers were a surprise last season, finishing with 44 wins and earning a play-in berth. Newcomer Donovan Mitchell will increase their ceiling, and a big second season from Evan Mobley could help Cleveland become a genuine contender.

15. Atlanta Hawks

Despite making the Eastern finals in 2021, the Hawks struggled to get on the same page last season and fell to the Heat in the first round. They’ll be better this season, as Dejounte Murray gives them another All-Star next to Trae Young.

16. Toronto Raptors

Few expected Toronto to win 48 games last season. Scottie Barnes’ Rookie of the Year season helped them exceed expectations. Their ability to make another leap this season hinges on Barnes’ ability to do the same.

17. Chicago Bulls

It’s unclear when Lonzo Ball will return from knee surgery, and his absence will be felt. But as long as DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine are healthy, the Bulls will be firmly in the playoff race.

18. Los Angeles Lakers

Counting out LeBron James feels like a bad bet, but the Lakers were the NBA’s biggest disappointment last season. Russell Westbrook struggled to acclimate to his new team and Anthony Davis was limited to 40 games. James is still one of the league’s best, but turns 38 in December and can’t carry teams like he used to. Davis and Westbrook will have to step up.

19. Sacramento Kings

By trading Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana for Domantas Sabonis last season, the Kings made it clear they’re ready to win now. Keegan Murray, the No. 4 overall pick in July, is ready for the NBA, but Sacramento still looks like merely a fringe playoff team.

20. New York Knicks

Brunson gives the Knicks a needed playmaker next to Julius Randle. They’ll be better than last season’s 37-45 team, but they look like a play-in team in a tough Eastern Conference.

21. Portland Trail Blazers

Former Piston Jerami Grant steps into a new role as Damian Lillard’s No. 2. Lillard’s health and Anfernee Simons building on a breakout season (after signing a $100 million extension) will dictate Portland’s season.

22. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets emerged as one of the East’s most fun teams last season in making the play-in tournament. But they had an underwhelming offseason, and the domestic violence charges against Miles Bridges — the restricted free agent and former MSU star had an evidence hearing pushed back for the fourth time Friday — could hang over their season.

23. Washington Wizards

Bradley Beal is back and on a max contract after wrist surgery limited him to 40 games last season. He and Kristaps Porzingis will attempt to lead Washington back to the playoffs.

24. Detroit Pistons

It’s fitting the Pistons lead off the “rebuilding” tier of these rankings. They’re more talented this season than last: Bojan Bogdanovic, Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel give them reliable options on the wing and at center, and their young core — headlined by Cade Cunningham — is expected to leap forward. They’re not quite a playoff threat, but they should be more competitive.

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25. Orlando Magic

Like the Pistons, the Magic appear to be on the cusp of building something sustainable. 2022 No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero gives them a potential future star, and recent lottery picks Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner and Cole Anthony give them one of the NBA’s more promising young cores. Jonathan Isaac making a full recovery after missing two seasons with a knee injury would boost Orlando’s fortunes.

26. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers maneuvered toward a rebuild by trading Malcolm Brogdon to Boston this offseason. They have one of the NBA’s most promising young guards in Haliburton, and lottery wing Bennedict Mathurin looks like an ideal backcourt partner.

27. Houston Rockets

Jalen Green, the No. 2 pick in 2021, finished his rookie season on a strong note and is positioned for a leap. Rookie Jabari Smith Jr., the No. 3 pick in 2022, could be one of the NBA’s best shooters from Day 1. Houston has talent, but lack of experience keeps them in the bottom tier for now.

28. Utah Jazz

They traded Gobert in July, and dealt Mitchell and Bogdanovic in September. This season will almost certainly be the franchise’s first outside the playoffs since 2016. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Jazz move on from veteran guard Mike Conley Jr. ahead of the trade deadline.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder

It’s a bummer we’ll have to wait until the 2023-24 season to watch 2022 No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren (foot injury). The Thunder have one of the NBA’s best young scorers in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Josh Giddey is coming off of a good rookie season. But they’re one of the league’s least-deep and least-experienced teams.

30. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs traded Dejounte Murray over the summer and have fully embraced rebuilding. Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell are talented young wings, and 2022 lottery pick Jeremy Sochan has long-term potential. But as head coach Gregg Popovich joked on media day, you shouldn’t bet on this team winning a championship.

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