Christian Petersen/Getty Images
We’re just about halfway through the NBA season and generally there’s an idea of the the legitimate teams and the teams that look like they have a shot at winning it all but in actuality have no chance. These teams reveal themselves as the season unfolds and as the contenders are revealed the pretenders also are exposed in void attempts to proclaim legitimacy.
As it stands at the middle of the season, here are my top 3 contenders and top 3 pretenders in the NBA right now:
Contender Number 1: The Cleveland Cavaliers
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
It should come as no surprise that the defending champions are the number one contender in the NBA right now. Even though that team in Oakland has the best record in the NBA at the moment, This Cavalier team is one of the few teams in the NBA with a solidified identity that completely understand and can execute their game plan on a nightly basis.To make matters even sweeter, Kevin Love, who struggled in his first year as a Cavalier and had a sub par NBA finals, went back to Minnesota, found his game, and brought it back with him to Cleveland.
This year he’s returned back to his double-double ways averaging around 22 points (21.8) and 11 (10.9) rebounds per game shooting 44% from the field and 35% from 3. And even beyond this, after outclassing Unanimous MVP Stephen Curry in the Finals, Kyrie Irving has continued to ascend into top tier point guard status and has not looked back. Oh yeah, there’s this other guy on the Cavs, you may have heard of him, you may not have.
I think he goes by :
Regardless of whoever the MVP may be this year, Lebron James is the best player in the league and we can pretty much pencil him into the finals for the next few years, not much needs to be said about Lebron, he’s Lebron. Oh, and I almost forgot
Kyle Korver to make Cavaliers debut vs. Jazz, sources tell ESPN https://t.co/ahf1uXkYKG
— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) January 11, 2017
These things being said, I think its safe to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers are poised to make another title run.
Contender number 2: The Golden State Warriors
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The Justice League of the NBA, the super team of super teams. 4 all-NBA players on one team. After Kevin Durant announced that he would leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and Join the Golden State Warriors, many had it as a forgone conclusion that they would dominate the NBA and penciled them in for a championship. That being said I have them as the number two contender in the NBA for various reasons.
What made the 73-9 warriors special was their ability to go 10-12 players deep into the rotation even late in the playoffs. With players like Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezili, Leandro Barbosa etc. The warriors were able to keep teams off balance and give their stars a rest during down stretches of games. However this year, they sacrificed that depth, they removed all of their pawns to add another king to the board, and with that comes an adjustment.
Last Season the Warriors started 24-0 and Stephen Curry had an outrageous year as their leader, averaging 30 points 6 assists and 5 rebounds per game, which earned him honors as the NBA’s first ever unanimous MVP. This year, Curry has willingly handed the keys to the car to Kevin Durant and the difference in team continuity is evident.
Though they have the best record in the league there have been instances where many question whether or not Kevin Durant makes in game decision that are healthy and that contribute to the Golden State Warrior basketball we are accustomed to seeing over the last 3 seasons.
Most recently, the Warriors choked away a 20 point fourth quarter lead at home against the Memphis Grizzlies, and no moment in the game stood out more than when Kevin Durant broke the set play for Curry and Draymond Green and took matters into his own hands:
Warriors' Kevin Durant calls for ball on crucial late possession, Stephen Curry relents, Draymond Green reacts w/ frustration pic.twitter.com/VROJSAZ0cZ
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) January 7, 2017
However despite all of this, and amidst all of the chatter, THE WARRIORS HAVE KEVIN DURANT AND STEPHEN CURRY, and that alone is enough for them to moonwalk through majority of the Western Conference unscathed. They still have the best record in the NBA and still have 4 of the top 15 players in the NBA. Believe me when I say they will be just fine, that is, until they meet Lebron James.
Contender number 3: San Antonio Spurs
Harry How/Getty Images
It seems comical that every year these spurs fly under everyone’s radar in terms of being a contender. They aren’t flashy, they don’t wow you with athleticism or shooting the lights out of the gym. They don’t talk trash, they don’t play exciting. They are simple, smart, poised , and always ready. Yes they have Kawhii Leonard, yes they have Lamarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobili (still) and Tony Parker(still) ,but there’s one man that makes this whole operation work, a man named Greg Popovich.
His uncanny ability to turn any single player into a legitimate contributor to his team simply makes him the most dangerous weapon on the San Antonio Spurs.Currently sitting at 2nd in the west and only 1.5 games out of 1st place, The Spurs are simply just cruising under all of our noses, letting other teams take the headlines, the all stars, and the notoriety, and just cruising at 2nd place in the west.
There’s not really much to say about these Spurs, they are boring, they are dull , they are bland, but you better believe that come April they will have a horse in the championship race.
And now comes the fun part, without further adieu ladies and gentlemen, your Pretenders for 2016-17 NBA Season:
Pretender number 1: Los Angeles Clippers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Who else, this wasn’t a hard decision, they are just simply fools gold personified. You want to believe in them , you want to maybe think “This is their year”. But……it’s just like……. it’s really hard to describe. There’s always something, every year since Chris Paul crash landed on the Clippers due to “basketball reasons” we have given them high praise at the beginning of each season, they seem to re-tool every year, re load on new players and remain “Elite” but in the last 4 seasons they have failed to make it passed the second round of the playoffs.
Its almost a yearly tradition now for Blake Griffin to miss large chunks of the regular season and leave the burden to Chris Paul of carrying the rest of the Clippers team, Doc Rivers voice withers with each game and DeAndre Jordan still shoots south of 50% from the free-throw line. The talent alone between Blake, Chris and DeAndre will be enough to secure them a top 4 spot in the Western Conference, but this core just has not proven that they are Championship worthy, scratch that, Western Conference Finals worthy.
Again, I’d like to believe that maybe this is the year they make the jump, it’d be my hope, at least for the sake of Chris Paul, who, as elite as he still is, isn’t getting any younger and still has not tasted the Western Conference Finals. The jig has been up for the Clippers for some time now and I just don’t know if they have what it takes to make the jump. A wise man once said, “I may be wrong, but I doubt it”.
Pretender number 2: Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Contrary to the Clippers, The Raptors are not fools gold , they aren’t a joke, they aren’t lacking, they just simply aren’t good enough. It’s very unfortunate for them, and it isn’t their fault. Both Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry are having career years with Derozan averaging 28 (27.8) points 5 rebounds and 4 (3.9) assists and Lowry averaging 22 points 5 rebounds and 7 assists, The Raptors are anchored by the second best back court in the NBA, and have a legitimate core that has had success in the playoffs.
I understand it seems a bit paradoxical that I give them so much praise but label them as pretenders. To be truthfully honest, there is one reason why they are pretenders , and its no secret :
Plain and simple, they are not good enough to defeat Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. As good as they will continue to be in the regular season and as good as they will be in the post season, when it comes down to it, Lebron James is simply to tall of a task for Demar Derozan and the Toronto Raptors. Its just that simple.
Pretender number 3: Houston Rockets
Bob Levey/Getty Images
They are high octane, high powered, fueled by The Beard, driven by the offensive Wizard that is Mike D’antoni, James Harden potentially is slated to win the MVP award this year averaging a ridiculous 28 points 7 rebounds (6.8) and 12 assist (11.8) and at this point in the season have won 9 straight games. The Rockets are sitting in 3rd place in the Western Conference and they are on a hot streak right now. So what makes them pretenders? a few things actually.
1. As good as they are at this point in the season, going forward its hard for me to honestly say that I think they have enough fire power to dethrone The Warriors in the Western Conference. As well as they play as a team offensively it is no surprise that they still are in the bottom 5 of the NBA in defense. Playing one side of the ball will get you torched against the Golden State Warriors and its that simple.
2. Can they beat the Spurs? Who’s coach has perfected basketball on its mental platform. If Phil Jackson is the “Zen Master” then I hereby dub Greg Popovich the “Jedi Master”. I’m not sure the rockets have the discipline to topple San Antonio.
3. Lastly, as great as Harden has been, he is the league leader in minutes played with 1,426 total minutes played and he also has a usage percentage of 33.8 which is fourth in the NBA. Why does this matter? because you can not survive if you are running the source of your power into the ground. Credit coach Mike D’Antoni for making the decision to move Harden to point guard, credit him for reviving both Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, but the work load Harden has endured cant be ideal for a long term situation. God forbid Harden has a serious injury but we’ve seen this happen not too long ago when D’Antoni ran Kobe Bryant right into a torn achilles.
The Rockets are explosive and are a machine on the offensive end, but they have to find a way to make life a little easier for Harden, and they have to play better defense.
So there you have it, my top 3 contenders and pretenders in the NBA as it stands today, this list could change, but it probably wont. We’re almost midway through the season and anything can happen, all we can do is sit back and watch it unfold.