BDL's Most Interesting Power Rankings: OKC grabs everyone's attention
Let's face it — the best and most powerful teams in the NBA don't really change from week to week. A handful of results in the middle of winter can only mean so much to a franchise's championship hopes. What does shift regularly, though, is how much interest a squad can hold over the course of a season. Every Monday, BDL's Most Interesting Power Rankings track the teams most worthy of your attention.
THE TOP 15
1. Oklahoma City Thunder: After a year lost to several high-profile injuries, the return of pending free agent Kevin Durant and the arrival of new head coach Billy Donovan highlight what should be a fascinating, franchise-altering season for OKC. If the new parts aren't enough to get you excited, then know that Russell Westbrook has had no problems continuing his mind-altering, everywhere-at-once 2014-15 form this preseason. Wednesday's opener against the Spurs should be a solid first test.
2. Golden State Warriors: The defending champs have spent the offseason rejecting naysayers who claim they got lucky in one of the most statistically impressive seasons in NBA history. Playing without rehabbing head coach Steve Kerr to start the regular season, the otherwise likable Warriors now find themselves cast as NBA villains. Yes, little Stephen Curry is now a bully.
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3. Cleveland Cavaliers: Despite their unchallenged status as the best team in the Eastern Conference, the Cavs enter this season with many points of interest thanks to the ever-relevant LeBron James and offseason re-signings that have given them the largest player payroll in NBA history. Plus, Kevin Love figures to get every chance to carve out a larger role in the offense with Kyrie Irving not rushing his recovery back from the fractured knee cap that ended his NBA Finals.
4. Milwaukee Bucks: The young, versatile, and rebranded Bucks have gone from the worst team in the NBA to league darlings in two years. The question now is whether promising youngsters like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker can fulfill their considerable potential and help Milwaukee move closer to contention.
5. San Antonio Spurs: Fresh off the most competitive and entertaining series of the playoffs, San Antonio won the offseason by nabbing All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the best free agent on the market. Yet the Spurs are no sure thing after a terrible EuroBasket 2015 for Tony Parker raised questions about the form of their aging backcourt.
6. Miami Heat: Rookie Justise Winslow joins Dwyane Wade, Goran Dragic, the thankfully healthy Chris Bosh, and 2014-15 surprise Hassan Whiteside to form what could be one of the league's best starting lineups by season's end. On the other hand, the Heat will almost certainly go through some growing pains and could be just as interesting as a work in progress as they could be as a finished product.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: The tragic death of Flip Saunders understandably changes the mood around the franchise, but there's still lots of optimism about the future of a roster featuring reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, and highlight-machine point guard Ricky Rubio. The Wolves figure to be lots of fun, no matter how many games they win.
8. Sacramento Kings: The simultaneous marriages of Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins, George Karl, and a bunch of other ill-fitting parts should be the most explosive trainwreck of the season. With several extreme personalities and no apparent ability to make it all work, expect to see very high highs and very low lows.
9. Chicago Bulls:
New head coach Fred Hoiberg has already brought changes to a team that possibly stagnated after too many years under Tom Thibodeau. The question is if the bold move of bringing longtime center and heartbeat Joakim Noah off the bench does more harm than good. And how long will Derrick Rose stay in the lineup to see the results?
10. Utah Jazz: An iffy preseason curbed some of the enthusiasm surrounding everyone's sleeper playoff pick (which, you know, means they're not a sleeper), but the Rudy Gobert-led defense could keep the Jazz on a steep upward trajectory. Contrary to reputation, Utah could soon become one of the coolest teams in the sport.
11. Los Angeles Clippers: The aftermath of DeAndre Jordan's dramatic return to the Clippers and the impact of the offseason pickups of Paul Pierce and others will play out over time, so it's hard to tab this group as especially worthy of study in the season's first week. Nevertheless, a few notable performances (either good or bad) could send them up this list quickly.
12. Houston Rockets: Under normal circumstances, a returning conference finalist would be judged primarily by its postseason finish. But the addition of the talkative Ty Lawson and ongoing questions surrounding Dwight Howard's level of stardom should serve as flashpoints in the opening month. The Rockets are less settled than meets the eye.
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13. New Orleans Pelicans: Several injuries, including a big one to Tyreke Evans, have tempered early expectations after the big, much-feted move to replace Monty Williams with new head coach Alvin Gentry. But those absences should only make it more interesting to see what sort of production All-World forward Anthony Davis can muster in a new system.
14. Los Angeles Lakers: We don't know how long Kobe Bryant will stay healthy, so let's give them a spot on this list if only because one of the best players in NBA history may not have many important moments left. If Kobe isn't your cup of tea, then the development of rookie D'Angelo Russell and possibility of several high-usage guards fighting each other over control of the ball should provide extra interest.
15. Indiana Pacers: The full return of Paul George has been one of the more undersold stories of the preseason given that his last full season culminated in an All-NBA Third Team spot captured while he was just 23 years old. PG-13 has spent most of the exhibition campaign dunking with authority, looking every bit the player he was before suffering his brutal leg injury.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
26. Denver Nuggets: Point guard Emmanuel Mudiay is one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year and should be plenty of fun, but the Nuggets are early enough in their rebuilding process that it's perhaps better to check in with them in a month or two, when they're firmly in the lottery. It's possible that Mudiay will only get full control of the offense when new head coach Michael Malone has no reason not to allow it.
27. Philadelphia 76ers: The NBA's most extreme thought experiment will inspire countless thinkpieces this season — until Sam Hinkie sees success, really — but it still doesn't make for especially watchable basketball on a weekly basis. At least Jahlil Okafor is now in town to add some spice.
28. Detroit Pistons: Stan Van Gundy's second year with the Pistons should see more wins, although the excitement factor likely begins and ends with man-child center Andre Drummond. Handing the offense over to Reggie Jackson should conclude with gaudy stats and brutal inefficiency.
29. Brooklyn Nets: The Nets looked to cut some costs in the offseason, but did not go so far as to rebuild. The end product is a squad without much in the way of forward momentum or broader purpose.
30. Charlotte Hornets: A 7-1 preseason does not obscure the fact that the Hornets boast few high-impact players and have lost lockdown defender Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the season. Get your Crying Jordan memes ready.
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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter!