The NBA’s dozen contenders
Rating the 12 teams on the TrueHoop title bus
BY DAVID THORPE
Who’s on the bus? We like to give TrueHoop subscribers rolling updates of the teams that are still in the mix to win a title. Most years at this time, we are down to four or five serious contenders, but this year, it’s almost triple that. The bus is crowded.
And confusing. Nearly every contender has major questions. Will the Nets have Ben Simmons back, and how will that work? Can the Warriors count on Draymond Green to be healthy and as good as he was earlier in the season? And so on.
As of now, FiveThirtyEight has the Celtics as the favorites to win the 2022 NBA title. That would historic! The Celtics, today, are the fifth seed in the East, and no fifth seed has ever won the NBA title. Meanwhile, most Vegas oddsmakers favor the last year’s runners up, the Suns, which would also be historic–the Suns have never won a title.
The preseason favorite Nets, after a season of drama and missed games by star players, are eighth in the East, but looked good against the 76ers last night and may yet emerge as this postseason’s best team. The Bucks, last year's champions, lolly-gagged through the better part of the season, but just won six straight, four against playoff teams—and had their second-best player pour in 44 points in a big Sunday showdown against the Suns.
No season in memory has this many superstars and their teams rightfully in contention. By my count, there are currently a dozen, even leaving out Atlanta, a conference finalist last year; the Clippers, who won’t see Kawhi in a jersey this season; and the Lakers, who needed a magical 56 points from LeBron just to beat a Green-less Warriors team, before losing to the Rockets.
Ordinarily, this is where we’d sort the teams into some kind of power ranking. But this season is too complex to do that a regular way. Every team has major unknowns—more than most contenders at this time in the season.
Almost every team on this list could lose in the first round. And every team on this list really could win the title.
I ask myself three questions:
How good can the team grow to be as the postseason unfolds? In other words, how high is their ceiling?
Can they perform at a very high level consistently, so they don’t constantly have to repeatedly dig themselves out of 0-2 and 1-3 holes in series after series? I think of this as having a high floor, a team that forces opponents to play extremely well most nights to beat them.
How likely is it that the team will get to that level of play for them? In other words, how reliable are they game after game?
So this year, I’m projecting three things: a team’s ceiling, floor, and most likely outcome.