This NBA season has been everything we could have imagined and then some. Despite only a handful of teams being legitimate title contenders, we have still seen a lot of teams be competitive and surprise the league.
Now that the NBA regular season is nearing an end, we have a good picture of which teams are legit and which aren’t. In this article, we will be breaking up the league into tiers which should give us a better understanding of what each team is this season.
A “championship contender” is a team that has one or more superstars surrounded by a great/veteran-heavy supporting cast. These teams are almost always at the top of the league record-wise and are expected to go deep in the playoffs.
This year, the championship contenders are the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Lakers and Clippers had summers to remember as they were both able to add superstars to their respective teams. So far, this rivalry has lived up to the hype and if they meet in the playoffs, it will be an unforgettable series.
The Bucks have been cruising through the league behind the historic play of Giannis Antetokounmpo. This team has the chance to break Golden State’s record for most wins in a season and are currently the heavy favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
“Just Not Quite There”
For this tier of teams, they are amazing in the regular season but, are still a piece or two away from being serious title contenders or just cannot hold up with one of the serious contenders in a 7-game series.
These teams are the Houston Rockets, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Denver Nuggets and the Utah Jazz.
Looking at teams such as the Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, and Denver Nuggets, though they were been spectacular in the regular season, they may not have enough star power/firepower to compete with the Milwaukee Bucks or one of the L.A. teams in the playoffs.
Looking at teams such as the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets, though they have enough star power, they have both been questionable in the regular season and many have their doubts about them heading into the playoffs.
These teams are those who not many expect to go far in the playoffs unless a team they are facing has an injury to one of their top guys and are usually multiple pieces away from being serious contenders.
These teams are the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Orlando Magic and the Dallas Mavericks.
The Memphis Grizzlies, OKC Thunder, and Dallas Mavericks have all had surprising seasons as the majority of people did not expect them to be this good. With these teams being relatively young and having many assets, they should be staples in the playoffs for many years to come.
Despite this though, these teams are not expected to do much in the playoffs and will more than likely get bounced in the first round, depending on their matchups.
The Indiana Pacers were a team that many looked at as “slept on” and at the beginning of the season, they looked like a team that could do a ton of damage in the playoffs. Now, they are only 1-6 in their last 7 games and their win came against the Milwaukee Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo.
To return to the team they once were, the Pacers are going to have to fix their problems and they must do so fast.
The Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic are both multiple games under .500 and will both be, more than likely, fighting until the end of the season to secure their playoff spots. Even if they can keep their current positions, they will have to face the top teams in the Eastern Conference and unless someone goes bonkers, they will be bounced in the first round.
“On the Outside Looking In”
These teams have had a rough start to the season so far and face an uphill battle or need a miracle to happen if they want to make the playoffs.
These teams are the Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets.
The Blazers were a team that many expected to be in the “Playoff Teams” tier or maybe even the “Just Not Quite There” tier. This has not been the case because of an extremely rough start to the season. They have been able to crawl their way back up due to legendary play from Damian Lillard but, their chances of making the playoffs are pretty low right now.
The Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls, and the Charlotte Hornets all have a fighting chance to make the playoffs because they have the luxury of playing in the Eastern Conference. Due to inconsistent play and injuries to both the Nets and Magic, one of the teams mentioned may be able to sneak into that 8th seed.
The Spurs, Pelicans, Suns, and Kings are in the same boat as the Blazers as due to slow starts, they see themselves hoping for a miracle to make the playoffs. These teams have been relatively inconsistent for most of the season and at this point, they should focus more on player development and improving their odds at landing the number one pick in this year’s draft.
“Bottom Feeders/Tanking Teams”
These teams are at the bottom of the league because they just don’t have the pieces to even compete for a playoff spot. These teams are usually relatively young and are almost always a few years away from being playoff contenders unless they can land a star player in the draft.
These teams are the Minnesota Timberwolves, Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Warriors are a special case in this as injuries to their best players in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have ultimately turned this season into a “gap year”. Unless injuries ruin their season next year, they are expected to make the playoffs and possibly contend for a championship, depending on what they do in the offseason.
The Minnesota Timberwolves and Atlanta Hawks have their young stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Trae Young, respectively, but their supporting casts have been horrendous this year.
They have each made big moves to add talent to the team as the Wolves were able to acquire D’Angelo Russell and the Hawks were able to acquire Clint Capela.
After another offseason, these teams could become playoff contenders next season.
The remaining teams, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, and Detroit Pistons are pretty mediocre and have yet to find their franchise player. These teams are still a few seasons away from playoff contention and must make all the right moves to get there.