The new NBA campaign has begun, as select franchises have gotten themselves off to a hot start. For others, COVID concerns and lingering injuries have created early setbacks.
Here, we analyze whether various teams have the potential to be NBA Finals contenders, or if they are simply pretending:
Contenders: Golden State Warriors
Sitting atop the Western Conference standings, the Golden State Warriors have exceeded expectations to this point in the season. With Klay Thompson expected to return this week following a torn ACL in his left knee, Golden State remained a top five team in both scoring and scoring defense without him on the court. Aside from Thompson, the Warriors have spent time without Draymond Green, Jordan Poole, and Andrew Wiggins during stretches of the regular season due to COVID protocols. With a 29-8 record, it’s scary to think Golden State isn’t at full health and could be playing at a higher level as we get closer to the playoff stage.
Pretenders: Philadelphia 76ers
Without Ben Simmons on the floor this season, the 76ers are missing a second superstar to play alongside Joel Embiid. Philadelphia is 21st in the league in scoring this season and is 13th in fastbreak efficiency. The 76ers once prided itself on their rebounding efforts last season, finishing 10th in the league. Now, they are at the bottom of the league with 4.9 less rebounds per contest. Philadelphia could find itself as a playoff team in the Eastern Conference, but may be in danger of playing for their lives in the play-in tournament.
Contenders: Chicago Bulls
Even with the COVID protocols, the Chicago Bulls have been one of the most impressive teams this season. As the second seed in the Eastern Conference, this was a front office that spent millions on veteran free agents such as Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and DeMar DeRozan. This season, Chicago is 5th in offensive efficiency and improved to 7th in opponent three point rate. When fully healthy, the Bulls need to be in the conversation as teams that can make some noise in the playoff setting.
Pretenders: Los Angeles Lakers
On paper, the combined efforts of Anthony Davis, LeBron James, and Russell Westbrook among other veteran talents should be enough to be considered heavy favorites for an NBA Championship. However, a lack of chemistry mixed with lingering injuries have held the Lakers back from being taken seriously. Los Angeles commits the third-most turnovers per game this season, while ranking 22nd in the league when it comes to points converted from three-point range. Despite playing at the second-fastest pace in the NBA, the Lakers are now stewing in trade rumors as we get closer to the Trade Deadline.