In this series, I will evaluate the top contenders in the NBA in each blog. I will include the obvious and the surprises. I will also include a dark horse per blog, to be a dark horse you have to have components and the rhythm at that time to be considered a possible threat to the top teams.
To be part of the Title Committee you have to be at least top three in the respective conference, and have evidence that you can contend for a championship. So now, let’s see who makes the inaugural committee.
Golden State Warriors (current NBA champion)
Whether it’s their style of play, the pieces their starting line up are composed with, or chemistry, the Golden State Warriors seem to heavy favorites over all possible contenders. Which is why they head out the committee. For all the reasons I don’t think they will win the title this year, there are reasons they will win. Besides the fact they have been each of the last three years winning two of them, they have dangerous weapons to their team.
It’s beyond the fact they shoot threes at such a high and consistent rate, its who’s doing it. Imagine this, coming up with a game plan against a three point shooting team, and I tell you two of their best players shoot when they come across half. Also those same players have the ball handle to get pass any defender you put in front of them. Wait, they are also unselfish, so when you think of bringing a double team they can dish it off to one of their other shooters waiting with their catch and shoot badge ready to light up. That’s what you get when you have Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. Ridiculous range, unselfish play and just the right amount of handles to get away from anyone.
This team is also among the best in team defense. If you just watch them play, it’s not like they all are first team all defense worthy, with the exception of their lone honoree in Draymond Green. They just know exactly when and how to rotate because most teams try and do the same thing over and over again, they try and beat the Warriors by doing what the Warriors do best, SHOOT. They launch threes and its not smart. Missed threes lead to long rebounds which lead to fast breaks and no one in the league is better at stopping on the break for a three than the Warriors. It’s actually quite petty, regardless of the advantage they love pumping the brakes right after the half court line and if you don’t pay attention, BANG, you just missed a three and gave one up in less than 10 seconds, six point turnaround.
The other part of why the Warriors are such a threat is because they have a player in Draymond Green that most teams don’t. Here’s a guy who will never lead the team in scoring, never give you astonishing highlights or even game winning shot. His box score however is an analytics lovers dream. He will end the game with eight points, 12 rebounds, nine or 10 assists, four steals, three blocks and at least two fouls that causes the fouled player to lose his head and get out of his game. It’s not glamorous but Steph Curry isn’t getting blocks and tons of rebounds, Klay Thompson isn’t getting steals and risking fouls, and Kevin Durant may get points, rebounds and occasional block(2nd in the league in blocks) but he’s willing to sacrifice his shots THAT MUCH, not where he’s getting eight points in a given game. While Draymond might be the irritant to most fans, he’s the most important to the Warriors. If there was an award for Most Important, Draymond would constantly be in contention.
Cleveland Cavaliers (Previous NBA Finals runner up)
LeBron James. I could easily just write his name and leave it at that. That sums up the Cavs chances. LeBron is still playing like he has something to prove, not sure exactly what that is but there are games where he just looks like he’s on another level from everyone else on the floor.
Wait, that’s an understatement, he IS on another level majority of the time.
Nonetheless, LeBron can’t possibly be the only reason they are in this committee. In fact, it’s his new teammates that make them serious contenders. Starting with a familiar face.
Dwayne Wade joined the Cavs this season after the Chicago Bulls seemed to decide to go through a complete rebuild and Wade at this stage of his career has no interest in rebuilding projects. Some thought he would join the San Antonio Spurs but you can never under-value what role friendships play in decisions. After a buyout with the Bulls, Wade wasted no time joining his former Heat and Champion teammate in James in Cleveland to chase yet another championship. However it was just Wade who provided the Cavs with good reason to feel good about returning to the Finals, it was the acquisition of Isaiah Thomas from the Boston Celtics. A trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston. In terms of scoring, it was fairly even, Thomas scoring 28.9 ppg and Irving scoring 25.2 ppg. You can make the argument that neither are known for their defensive presence or that either will ever lead the team in assist, LeBron does that. What Thomas does provide is someone who can just spark a 18–0 by himself. Kyrie wasn’t happy in Cleveland, insert Thomas and there you have it an explosive scorer who no longer has to create for himself as he did in Boston instead just get open pretty much.
It will be interesting to find out how the Cavs will rotate Rose and Thomas, assuming Rose decides to stay in basketball after recent reports of him needing time away from the game and his team. Also, the most under-appreciated player on the Cavs, Kevin Love, is off to a good start to the season (18 ppg and 10 rpg). All the aforementioned reasons are why the Cavs head out the committee early on in the season.
Now to those who are looking to make their run at the heads of the committee.
Houston Rockets (15–4, 1st West)
Threes, Threes, Threes, and more Threes. Bombs away. Shoot first and ask questions later. Whatever you can think of to describe their play style of shooting threes, use it. This team takes and makes the most threes in the NBA. It’s actually quite ridiculous how many they take in a given game. They are the true definition of living and dying by the three.
They also have James Harden who took his game to another level the last few years, especially after being asked to run the point guard position. Russell Westbrook may have led the league in triple doubles and broke the record for most in a season, but it was James Harden who broke records by scoring 50 with his triple double. Let that sink in for a minute. He scored 53 while dishing out 17 assists and grabbing 16 rebounds.
He has a pretty good core around him in Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela. Players who don’t mind shooting and getting out and running to an open spot waiting for Harden to drop a dime. They do it so well, they space the floor, let Harden dance and drive and kick it to an open player, or give up a Harden lay up. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, Harden has this step back three shot stuck on automatic half the time. It’s quite amazing, dance dance dance, step back, nothing by nylon. Impossible to guard and even more impossible to deal with through the course of a game without getting frustrated.
Harden himself also has a new partner in crime. Chris Paul. Regarded as possibly the best pure point guard in this generation, he brings leadership, defense, and yes another three point shooter. He also looks to set up his teammates and make everyone around him better, there’s no denying how important he is to any roster, but it will interesting to see if they can keep pace with their great start and if they can be a serious threat to the Warriors.
San Antonio Spurs (12–7, 3rd West)
The ever consistent San Antonio Spurs. Do you ever go into a season and wonder if they will be in contention? Have you ever looked at the NFL and said “I wonder if the New England Patriots are still winning”. You are looking the NBA version of the New England Patriots, they have a system, they continuously plug players in and out and you can predict their win total each season and call them contenders each season. No they don’t have Tim Duncan anymore, Manu Ginobli isn’t the same person he once was, and Tony Parker isn’t flying around like a blur.
Yet, Kawhi Leonard is easily a top five player, want to argue first look at his stats and consider the fact he’s guarding your best player each game. LaMarcus Aldridge may not be as he was in Portland, but he is still very effective and a presence on both ends of the floor. Tony Parker may not have the same speed but he understands the system better than anyone on the team and knows his spots. He’s not someone to take lightly!
The Spurs easily make this committee because of history with them. Regardless how old they are, they still seem to find themselves with 60 wins and at least a second round appearance if not a Western Finals appearance.
Here’s something to consider. They were leading the Warriors (eventual champs), by 25 before losing Kawhi to an injury that removed him for the remainder of the series, in Oakland. This is after beating Houston without him for the last two games in the series. The Spurs are one of two teams that still use their big men in the post, the other being the twin monster in New Orleans with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. While the rest of the league keeps launching bombs, the Spurs will be both in the post and creating three point shots.
Boston Celtics(18–3, 1st East)
Last but not least, Boston Celtics. They have come out on fire! Kyrie Irving is leading this team just as he envisioned when he requested to be traded away from the looming shadows of LeBron James. They’ve had come back wins, signature wins against Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, and they are playing great defense.
Of course you have to wonder, how? They lost their second best player in Gordon Hayward in the first game of the season, they start a rookie at power forward in Jayson Tatum who is performing excellent (14 ppg and 6 rpg), Jaylen Brown has made a name for himself on both ends of the floor, and though he flops beyond imagination, Marcus Smart is still providing plenty of value off the bench. They boast the best defense rating in the league, the best record, and they continue to keep rolling.
The addition of Kyrie Irving can’t be overstated. It was said when he requested the trade, how could someone not want to play with LeBron James? How can he possibly lead a team when he wasn’t doing that before James returned back to Cleveland? Well winning a championship makes all the difference. Before going to Miami, LeBron James didn’t know how to win titles either. Once he won, he made routine trips to the Finals. Same can be said about Kyrie, yes he was not the greatest of leaders before winning, and you wouldn’t mistake him for one with LeBron on the team, but apparently he’s learned a thing or two from playing alongside James and winning a title. His biggest attribute is his performance in the clutch and how he “wants it”. He wants the moment, he wants the pressure, he wants the burden of having to carry a team and taking heat one way or another.
Honorable Mention: Detroit Pistons 13–6, 2nd East.