Contenders, Pretenders, and Wembenyamas: NBA Power Rankings 2022-23 Season Vol. 1

Contenders, Pretenders, and Wembenyamas: NBA Power Rankings 2022-23 Season Vol. 1

We are now about a third of the way into the season, and we are already seeing who the real contenders to the throne are. There have been some surprises both good and bad, and it is evident that the incoming once in a generation talent Victor Wembenyama could be having a massive effect already on some of the teams down the bottom of the standings. 

Here is my first edition for the NBA Power Rankings for the 2022-23 season. I have split the league into three tiers:

- Contenders: Teams I believe have a legitimate shot at winning the championship this season,

- Pretenders: Teams that are massively underperforming based on their roster and potential, or younger teams who are still a few pieces away from being in the top tier, and

- Wembenyamas: Teams young or old that are no chance at competing this season, and are well on their way to grabbing themselves one of the best young players of the past decade in French superstar Victor Wembenyama. 

So without further ado, here is the rankings.

CONTENDERS

1. Celtics (22-7)

Offseason dramas appeared to rid the Celtics of continuing on from their success of last season, however it looks like they are better. Recent acquisitions Malcolm Brogdon and Blake Griffin appear to be giving the C’s enough experience to maybe take that next step. Oh, they also have the ‘Timelord’ Robert Williams III to return as well, so they are only going to get better.

2. Bucks (20-7)

Similar to the Celtics, the return of their big guy in the middle Brook Lopez has given the Bucks that extra bit of oomph they needed last season. Giannis has been a bit down so far this season and his ‘Robin’ Khris Middleton has only just returned from injury. It appears like another season where the Bucks are primed for a deep run to another potential championship.

 3. Pelicans (18-9)

Zion is officially back. If he can hopefully stay healthy and keep up this level of play, there is no reason why he would not be the favourite for the end of season (and newly named ‘Michael Jordan NBA MVP) trophy. As for the rest of the team, Brandon Ingram is injured and still to return, C.J. McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas have been a bit down on recent form and can still improve, and there is still the trade deadline where I think this team could benefit a lot towards improving an already great squad.

 4. Grizzlies (18-9)
Similar to Zion and the Pelicans, Ja Morant is already a superstar and among the NBA’s elite, and is well on his way to making the Grizzlies a force in the Western Conference for the next 5-10 seasons. Jaren Jackson Jr is already playing at an All-Star level, Kiwi enforcer Steven Adams is also having a career season, and they still have fellow future All-Star Desmond Bane to return from injury. With defensive tenacity and a certain swagger that goes with them, I see the Grizzlies right up there in the West, and a real threat to take it all out when all is said and done.

 

5. Cavaliers (18-11)

The revamped Cavs are showing the rest of the NBA that they belong with the elite teams in the league. New acquisition Donovan Mitchell is playing at a career best level, and they still have room to improve as fellow young guns Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen become accustomed to the new team dynamic. This team is primed for a deep run this season.

6. Nuggets (17-10)

The Nuggets have revamped their line-up this season to help perennial MVP contender Nikola Jokic attain his first ever NBA Championship. Role players such as Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have given the Nuggets some much needed experience for what looks to be another deep playoff run.

 7. Nets (17-12)

Who said the Nets were finished? After all the early season turmoil has led to some serious struggles from this star-studded line-up, the Nets seem to have figured some things out as they look like the team that everyone thought they would be when they formed. Durant is playing at his usual HOF level, and Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons are playing well also. Simmons for me is the key though, if he can become a fraction of the defensive stalwart he was in Philly, this team with the firepower they have are very dangerous.

 8. Clippers (17-13)

One of the early favourites for the title have somehow got themselves to within 2.5 games of 1st place in the West with their two superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George missing lots of time due to injury. Well, they are both back now and they look very good.

 9. 76ers (15-12)

Similar to the Clippers, Philly finally have some help for Joel Embiid with James Harden recently returning from injury. Young guard Tyrese Maxey should return sometime soon and we should see the 76ers go on a bit of a run. Embiid has been a bit down this season by his standards, but I expect his play to pick up as the season progresses and the 76ers to be one of the last teams standing in the East.

 PRETENDERS

10. Suns (16-12)

The Suns are still one of the West’s elite. Superstar guard Devin Booker has taken his game to yet another level, and they have really struggled since he has been injured. The ‘Point God’ Chris Paul has recently returned back from injury and looked like his old self, so if healthy, another deep championship campaign is on the cards still for one of the Western Conference best teams. I think they still need maybe one more wing player though through the trade deadline to reach that next level again. 

 11. Blazers (16-12)

The Blazers have been great this season and they have done so without their superstar Damian Lillard for a portion of the season. New acquisition Jerami Grant has continued his stellar play from the past few seasons, and Dame’s running partner Anfernee Simons has improved also with some big performances. Even with their great record, similar to the Suns I think one more player is needed to climb to the top level of teams in the league.

 12. Kings (15-12)

The Kings look good, and for the first time in what seems forever. De’Aaron Fox is playing the best basketball of his career and really blossoming into one of the West’s top PG, and new buddy Damontas Sabonis is playing unreal after a slow start to the season. I still feel they can improve and would not be surprised if they make another move at the deadline, but the Kings look like one of the most potent and exciting teams in the league this season.

 13. Jazz (16-14)

The real surprise packet of this season. After shipping off Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert for an abundance of draft picks in the offseason, many had the Jazz as the top contender in the Wenbenyama sweepstakes, but boy have they proven a lot of people wrong. Run by 34-year-old coaching mastermind Will Hardy, the Jazz remind me of that team (similar to the 04’ Pistons) built up of good players without any egos. Former Bull and Cav Lauri Markkanen looks like the frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award, and the young players like Vanderbilt, Kessler and NAW are playing really well. They might not do anything this season, or even next, but I expect the Jazz to be a powerhouse of the West in 2-3 seasons.

 14. Pacers (15-14)

Tyrese Haliburton, what a player. Another one who is right up there in the running for the Most Improved Player Award, Haliburton has taken that next step towards being one of the elite guards in the league, and he is leading his young Pacers team to be one of the best in the East. This year’s draft picks Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhardt both look like they are going to be stars, and the man in the middle Myles Turner is playing the best basketball of his career. They are in a weird spot because I feel they are only one or two pieces away from becoming elite in the East, but they could blow it up and build around their young core. They should be happy with their current progress.

 15. Heat (14-15)

The Miami Heat are the one team from this tier that I believe do belong in the tier above, but their injuries just seem to never go away. Jimmy Butler is always injured and seems to just have his eyes on the playoffs, and his absence is showing in their current record. They definitely still do make the playoffs, and maybe the extra time off will see them as one of the fresher teams come that time and then they are still one of the most talented line-ups in the league when healthy.

 16. Knicks (15-13)

I used to like Tom Thibodeau the first few seasons that he coached my Bulls, but it just seems like the same story every single season with him since those glory days in Chicago. He plays his guys way too much and does not play guys on the bench (Isaiah Hartenstein, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley) enough minutes, and it shows again with their record. I like the Knicks current roster, but unless a coaching change happens, I cannot see them doing anything in the playoffs.

 17. Warriors (14-15)

Championship hangover maybe, or is the age finally catching up on the champs? Steph Curry has carried this team so far this season, and their record shows. There has been no progression from any of their young players (Jordan Poole, James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga) and this is the key to them staging anything close to a defence of their title. Oh, Steph just injured his shoulder as well, so it could get worse before it gets any better.

 18. Hawks (14-15)

I think the Dejounte Murray experiment has been ok to say the least, but we have not really seen the Hawks fully healthy like they were to start the season. I still think they can be one of the elite teams in the East, but maybe a trade or two to bolster the bench would be ideal for this team. John Collins is the main guy to look at who could command a lot of attention from other teams, but also someone like DeAndre Hunter who can never seem to stay healthy. Another team who could end up in the tier above if things go right for them, but at the moment they are middle of the pack.

 19. Raptors (13-15)

The way this team is constructed is just weird. Their starting line-up is one of the best in the league, but their bench is full of mostly PF/C players who get barely any minutes after the big workloads of big men Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes. I feel a trade or two is definitely needed to bring some much needed guard depth to this squad, and maybe then they belong in the East’s elite.

20. Mavericks (14-14)

Please, please Mark Cuban, get Luka Doncic some help. Doncic is again one of the frontrunners for the MVP award, but it is not resulting in wins. I have liked the play of fellow guard Spencer Dinwiddie, but the Christian Wood gamble is not really paying off (is he a bench player or a starter?). If the Mavs want to go anywhere close to where they got last season, they need to really bolster this squad. There could be some amazing options available (any Chicago Bulls player, John Collins, Brandon Ingram, Pascal Siakam etc) and I expect the Mavs to be asking about every single one of them.

21. Timberwolves (13-15)

Some early season struggles saw most people looking at the Gobert gamble as a failed one, and then we saw some improvements, then superstar Karl-Anthony Towns got injured and now the struggles are back. Young star Anthony Edwards is really struggling this season, and I think he is the key for the turnaround for this team. I’m still not sure about D’Angelo Russell’s role on this team, and I think trading him for a lower usage guard and some depth could benefit them, but I don’t think they are going to trade him. KAT comes back in the next few weeks, so maybe a run towards the playoffs is on the cards.

 22. Thunder (11-17)

The only team in this area of the rankings that is not weirdly constructed. Similar to the Jazz, the Thunder are built for the future and being led by budding superstar Shai-Gilgeous Alexander who is one of the league’s elite at the moment. It would have been interesting if top rookie Chet Holmgren could have played this season to see just where this team lies, but we will have to wait until next season for that. For now, we get to witness one of the great young teams in the league play well above where they should be.

 23. Lakers (11-16)

This part of the list is filled up with the strangest constructed teams in the league. The Lakers need to trade either LeBron James or Russell Westbrook if they want to do anything this season, and the former I cannot see happening even though I think it is what needs to happen. Anthony Davis is playing the best basketball we’ve seen from him in years, but the rest of the team is a joke. Bringing in guys like Myles Turner and Buddy Hield makes sense, but are the Pacers willing to offload those guys now that they look like a playoff team? I doubt it, but something needs to happen for the Lakers if they want to do anything this season.

 WENBENYAMAS

24. Bulls (11-16)

It is so hard being a Bulls fan sometimes. A team with so much offensive firepower, hype, and potential, it has been a very tough start for the men from the Windy City. Their offence is still present, but without their injured guard Lonzo Ball (who could be lost for the season), they lack the defensive tenacity to hold off most other teams. The Bulls are in a weird spot, do they blow it up, or do they do try a quick retool and grab some defensive players to help the likes of Demar DeRozan and Zach Lavine?

 25. Wizards (11-18)

Another team in a weird spot. The Wizards made some questionable moves this offseason by giving oft-injured superstar Bradley Beal a max contract. They paired him last season with a guy who is more oft-injured in Kristaps Porzingis. Porzingis has looked good this season but it just seems something is off. Now their best young player Kyle Kuzma reportedly wants out. Do they blow it up and just trade away everyone, or similar to the Bulls can they retool to save this season?

 26. Rockets (9-18)

I personally love watching the Rockets play, and also love their potential. Young guard pairing Kevin Porter Jr and Jalen Green look to both have taken a step forward in their careers, as they both look more comfortable next to each other. Once the same happens with their young big man pairing in Jabari Smith Jr and Alperen Sengun, this team is going to be very good. For now, the inconsistencies and inexperience of this team have them down towards the bottom of the standings.

 27. Magic (9-20)

Another team with similar potential to the Rockets, the Magic seem to have constructed a good young core of players, but they just need some more time to gel and figure out what they are. Top rookie pick Paulo Banchero looks like the real deal, as he is already a 20 ppg scorer with massive potential. The guard situation is a bit weird with this team though. I personally think Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs are the best of the bunch, with former top pick Markelle Fultz being more of a sixth man scorer, but their current configuration has Suggs injured and Fultz and Anthony in a weird game by game time split. The other thing about this team is Bol Bol. What is he, a guard, a centre, a forward? I’m happy with him being that weird 7 foot guard, but maybe when Suggs is healthy his talents would best lie as the first big man off the bench. This team has plenty of assets that they can retool this team with to build better around Banchero, but which players they ship off is the question.

 28. Spurs (9-19)

The Spurs are a team that is just in a weird spot. With Popovich’s coaching, they are always going to be competitive. Top players Jakob Poeltl, Keldon Johnson, and Devin Vassell are all more second and third string options at best, and their inconsistencies show in their record. I think they should keep this core of players and build through the draft the next few seasons.

 29. Pistons (8-22)

A team with a lot of young talent, but unfortunately the season ending injury to young star guard Cade Cunningham has derailed any plans they might have had of making a playoff run this season. I think the injury could be a blessing though as we now get to see what they have with their other young players like Jaden Ivey, Isaiah Stewart, and Jalen Duren.

 30. Hornets (7-21)

This is the team in this tier that would benefit the most I believe from a player like Wembenyama as pairing him with superstar guard Lamelo Ball would be amazing to watch. The ankle injuries to Ball have restricted him to only four games, and it has showed that he is not only key to them becoming a winning line-up, but also one of the best young players in the league. The unfortunate circumstances surrounding Miles Bridges hampered what was looking like a promising young team, but with him gone they do not really have much else other than Ball. I would be shopping players such as Kelly Oubre Jr, Gordon Hayward, Miles Plumlee, and P.J. Washington Jr to see if they could get a decent player in return who would fit better next to Ball (did someone say John Collins?), other than that, this team is in pole position in the Wembenyama sweepstakes.

Tha_Notorious_B.A.D

Sports writer from Sydney, Australia

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