Much have been said about the new-look NBA extravaganza that promises to regale us this coming season. There are new alliances, new rivalries and new doctrines ushering in the emergence of hybrid cagers in an ever-evolving game. There are new exciting players coming up from college, and new coaches providing fresh ideas and renewed vigor. Such is the sweet chaos that bodes well for the league. Such is the new dawn that beckons as the NBA prepares for its new-look season.
Previously, we’ve seen teams winning with celebrated Dynamic Duos and Big Threes. These last few years however, we witnessed the Golden State Warriors stack up on stars to create the latest dynasty in the league. With an All-Star team of Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – not to mention former All-Stars Andre Igoudala and Demarcus Cousins – the Warriors were simply a cut above the rest. If not for the injuries to Durant, Cousins, Igoudala and finally, Thompson in the last playoffs, this team would have surely hoisted the championship flag once again.
The league now realizes that in order to reach the top, there is a need for not just 2, but 3 or more marquee stars to carry the team. Golden State’s 5-season juggernaut taught us that. But first, let’s take a quick look at the league’s Dynamic Duos and how we rate them:
- Lebron James, Anthony Davis – LA Lakers
- Kawhi Leonard, Paul George – LA Clippers
- James Harden, Russell Westbrook – Houston Rockets
- *Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving – Brooklyn Nets (Durant injured)
- *Steph Curry, Klay Thompson – GS Warriors (Thompson injured)
- Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers
- Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton – Milwaukee Bucks
- Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum – Portland Trailblazers
- Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray – Denver Nuggets
- Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell – Utah Jazz
The ideal duo-combination will bring in a point or wing-type operator partnering with a big guy. However, there are hybrid players like Lebron, Kawhi, Giannis and George who thrive on today’s positionless ball. Thus, the James/AD or the Leonard/George combo is a legit threat that will more often than not trump a Harden/Westbrook or Curry/Thompson all-guard combo. Be that as it may, all these killer combos composed of marquee talents are projected to tough it out come the playoffs.
But they simply will no longer suffice. To get deeper into the playoffs, teams will need more than just 2 stars. Thus, we take a serious look at the Triple Threats, as the 3rd star is factored in:
- Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green
- *James, Davis, Boogie Cousins (Cousins injured)
- Embiid, Simmons, Al Horford
- Leonard, George, Lou Williams
- Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Eric Bledsoe
- Harden, Westbrook, Clint Capela
- Gobert, Mitchell, Mike Conley
- Lillard, McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic
- Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward (Celtics)
- Jokic, Murray, Gary Harris
The 3rd man must complement the needs of the duo. Is it the backcourt, as in the case of the Clippers and the Jazz? Or is it the middle, as in the Rockets? Not only must the 3rd guy cover a spot that’s a shortage area for the duo, he must fit in on both the offensive and defensive systems of the team. Among the 3rd stars, no one gives more value to his team than Draymond Green. Next to him would be Boogie Cousins and Al Horford. Unfortunately, the injury suffered by Boogie will drive the Lakers down to 6th or 7th. With a healthy Cousins, the Lakers would occupy the 2nd slot. Note that I still included Klay Thompson in the Warriors’ line-up inasmuch as he is slated to resume playing by the second half of the season.
Expanding this further, we look at how a 4th man affects the ratings. Here is how I rate the Fantastic Fours:
- Leonard/George/Williams, plus Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)
- Embiid/Simmons/Horford plus Tobias Harris (76ers)
- Antetokounmpo/Middleton/Bledsoe plus Brook Lopez (Bucks)
- Curry/Thompson/Green plus D’Angelo Russell (Warriors)
- Harden/Westbrook/Capela plus Eric Gordon (Rockets)
- James/Davis/Kuzma plus Danny Green (Lakers)
- Gobert/Mitchell/Conley plus Bojan Bogdanovic (Jazz)
- Walker/Tatum/Hayward plus Enes Kanter (Celtics)
- Lillard/McCollum/Nurkic plus Hassan Whiteside (Blazers)
- Jokic/Murray/Harris plus Paul Millsap (Nuggets)
The 4th player will be a contentious issue. Each team will have a number of players who could step up at any given time. This list then is based my own determination of who strikes out as the best 4th man among the top teams. Note that I plunged the Warriors lower despite the addition of another All-star. D’Lo’s entry is a redundancy. I think his entry will only push Klay down to the 3-spot, where he’ll be forced to guard behemoths the likes of Giannis, Kawhi or Lebron. That said, D’Lo becomes less of an asset if paired with Steph in Golden State’s backcourt.
So there you have it. This is how I’d rate the teams. I based it on their recent individual performances, their consistency, their injury records, age, etc. I looked at the positions filled, the potential chemistry issues, but most of all, I trusted my own gut feel. I know there will be a lot of heartaches, a lot of comments, but this is how I see the cookie crumbles.
By the looks of it, it’s going to be the 76ers and the Bucks squaring off for the Eastern Conference crown, with the Celtics and the defending champs Raptors following at a distance. For the star-studded Western Conference, it’s the Clippers, the Warriors, the Rockets and the Lakers looking to survive the gauntlet, with the Jazz, the Blazers and the Nuggets giving a very strong challenge as well.
Next week, we take a look at the starters of the heavyweight teams. We look at how they will match up against the big guns in the league. With the match-ups, we will see a marked difference from taking individual ratings as a basis. Next season will be entirely different ballgame, folks. And I can’t wait to get it started.
For a closer look, just click on the pics.
Cover Photo courtesy of: Clutch Points. Gallery photos courtesy of: Island FM, PhilStar, Fox Sports, YouTube, Fadeaway World, NBA.com, USA Today, The Score, Clutch Points, Basketball Forever, Facebook, Twitter, The Inquisitor, Sporting News, Pikdo, and Clutch Points.