By Ollie Hall
The new NBA season has just started and who are title contenders amongst the league’s thirty teams I hear you ask? Well, here is a preview of the consensus top five contenders to help you decide who will take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy this year.
5. Golden State Warriors
The consensus as the fifth-best contender seems to be a toss-up between the Warriors and the Phoenix Suns so I’ve had to break the tie here and I’ve settled on Golden State above the Suns. Whilst the immense offensive firepower of the Suns is inarguable, it’s hard not to be concerned by their lack of depth. Besides the all-star three of Kevin Durant, Devon Booker and Bradley Beal there aren’t any high-level starters, which could force Durant, Beal or Booker to play more minutes per game, which is a high risk given their injury history.
On the other hand, the Warriors, whilst still flawed, have greater depth and more pedigree as a Championship contender which pushes them above the Suns. I have no doubt that Stephen Curry will be as mesmerising as ever, hitting absurd 3-pointers every game, and the comeback of Andrew Wiggins, who missed a lot of games last year, will strengthen their defence alongside Kevon Looney. In addition, third-year draft picks Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody look primed to provide impactful minutes off the bench under the tutelage of veteran Chris Paul. As long as Draymond Green can avoid another training scuffle – I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened again – they should have a better chance of competing for a title this year.
4. Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers fans will love to remind you that statistically the Lakers were the second-best team after the all-star break last year but whether they can continue this form into this year is to be seen. They did have a successful offseason, bringing back breakout player Austin Reaves as well as strengthening 3-point shooting around Lebron James with the additions of Gabe Vincent and Taurean Prince.
This could also be the year we see Anthony Davis take over the reins from Lebron James, who at 39 years old is likely to see his playing time heavily managed. AD did display MVP-level play at times last year but could not consistently stay at that level going missing in some games or, a common occurrence of his career, being injured. If AD and James can stay healthy this looks like Lebron’s best chance to win his fifth ring since 2020.
3. Boston Celtics
The next three are a cut above the previous teams in terms of threat to win the Championship and settling in at third best is the Boston Celtics. They’re starting five of White, Holiday, Brown, Tatum and Porzingis is perhaps the best in the league and Jayson Tatum looks like an early candidate for this year’s MVP award.
Their biggest challenge in winning the title however will be in improving their half-court offence during the playoffs, which was easily thwarted at times during last year’s. Jaylen Brown will have to take another step up in terms of his handling and creation to justify his record- breaking contract and second-year coach Joe Mazzulla will have to take greater initiative in tight games by drawing up more plays and changing lineups.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo has finally been paired alongside another true star player (sorry Khris Middleton) with the trade for Damian Lillard. This, in turn, has created perhaps the most terrifying duo to NBA defences with the prospect of a Dame-Giannis pick and roll seemingly undefendable. They have lost some defensive prowess in the backcourt by trading away Jrue Holiday and a potential trade may be needed mid-season to pair Lillard with a more defensive-minded guard.
There are also questions to be asked of the Bucks’ first-year coach Adrian Griffin, whose tenure has gotten off to a rocky start, but it should be pretty hard to coach a team with Giannis and Lillard poorly. The Bucks finished as the one seed in the east last year but were shocked by 8th-seeded Miami in the first round of the playoffs. They will be out for blood this year and can any team stand in their way?
1. Denver Nuggets
If there is one team who can stand in the Bucks’ way of a championship it is the Denver Nuggets. Nikola Jokic is back from an off-season of horse racing and drinking and is ready to pick apart NBA teams whilst simultaneously looking like he’d rather be anywhere else but the basketball court. And for Denver as long as they have Jokic, undoubtedly the best player in the league, they will remain favourites to repeat their title-winning exploits from last season.
Much of their squad from last year has been kept on apart from 6th man Bruce Brown however, second-year player Christian Braun showed signs last year of being able to cover the loss of Brown. Nikola Jokic has reiterated that individual awards and legacy do not matter to him but could we see a third MVP award and a second championship from him this season?
Image: Gobierno CDMX via Wikimedia Commons