The Contender: 5 NBA Finals Candidates
OAKLAND, CA – MAY 21: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after a basket in the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets during game two of the Western Conference Finals of the 2015 NBA PLayoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 21, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
This article is part two of our “The Contender” series. The NBA season may have just started, but some real favorites have emerged as true contenders. For those that haven’t read the other “The Contender” posts, this article will summarize our picks for this year’s NBA Championship, including one chalk pick and one dark horse.
- Chalk Pick: Golden State Warriors (20-0)-It wouldn’t be appropriate to leave out the reigning champs from a post concerning the NBA Championship, especially considering their 20-0 start. They have improved on both sides of the ball this year and are playing on a whole new level. The one statistic that says it all for me is: +15.3. This stat represents the Warriors average scoring margin this season. The Warriors schedule hasn’t been a cake walk either. They’ve pulled off big wins against the Bulls, Clippers and Raptors. Steph Curry is playing at a whole new level, averaging 33.0 points per 36 minutes. The Warriors success this season is also attributable to their improvement on the defensive end. They are 5th in Defensive Efficiency at 97.0. An improved Harrison Barnes has also helped provide a spark for the Warriors this season.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (13-5)-The Eastern Conference is better than its been in prior years, but I still don’t believe anyone will compete with LeBron and the Cavs this year. The Cavs didn’t have a great start to the season, but have since turned it around with 5 wins in their past 7 games. They have taken advantage of their fastbreak opportunities, trailing only Golden State in Fastbreak Efficiency. The Cavs championship aspirations fell apart last year during the playoffs when they lost Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving went down with injuries. This year, Love has rebounded from a difficult first season where he was relegated to shooting threes from the corner. He has established himself as the Cavs’ second options. Irving is yet to return from injury, but Mo Williams has filled in admirably as the Cavs’ floor general, chipping in 14.5 PPG and 4.5 APG. The Cavs are the best team in the Eastern Conference and should come out of the East. Therefore, they have to be a contender for this year’s NBA Championship.
- San Antonio Spurs (16-4)-The Spurs have come out of their graves…again. They have gotten it done on the defensive side this season, ranking first in defensive efficiency and points allowed per game. Anchored by Kawhi Leonard and Tim Duncan, the Spurs are playing unbelievable defense. Kawhi Leonard has also improved significantly on the offensive end of the court. He came in the league as a scrappy defensive stalwart and has slowly transitioned into the Spurs’ go-to player on offense. He has posted an impressive .516/.471/.860 slash line and is on pace for a career high 155 three pointers made. The key for San Antonio is LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge came to Texas to try and win a championship. Although the team has a good record, Aldridge hasn’t exactly found his role in the Spurs offense. Should he adjust, the Spurs have a legitimate chance to win their second championship in three seasons.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (11-8)-Anytime you have a superstar small forward in Kevin Durant and a superstar point guard in Russell Westbrook you have a chance to make a title run. The Thunder made the finals in 2012 and have been fighting to make it back ever since. Unfortunately, Durant and Westbrook have faced injuries that derailed their chances between 2013-2015. However, both guys are healthy and back to their normal selves. Westbrook took off last year with Durant sidelined and has continued his torrid pace this season. He is close to averaging a triple double with 27.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 9.8 APG. Durant has also returned back to normal, averaging 29 PPG. With Durant becoming a UFA in the summer, Thunder coach Billy Donovan has a little extra pressure to win in order to keep Durant in OKC. The Thunder may not have had a great start to the season, but they have the potential to skyrocket to the top of the standings and make a playoff run in another tough Western Conference.
- Dark Horse: Indiana Pacers (12-6)-Paul George is back and probably better than ever. PG13 has led the Pacers to six wins in their last seven games. He has averaged career highs in points, rebounds, and assists this season. He has became a much more effective scorer this season due to his efficiency behind the arc. He has hit threes at a 43% clip this season on seven attempts per game. Along with George, The Pacers have gotten significant contributions from C.J. Miles, who has scored a career high 15 PPG. Miles is known as a sharpshooter but has played a much bigger role for Indiana. There are two major factors that could help this team compete for the finals this year. First is Myles Turner. Turner is a 6’11” big man with a respectable mid range game and a whole lot of potential. He was drafted by Indiana with the eleventh pick in the draft and has had solid production in a limited role off the bench. If he can emerge as a stretch four for Indiana, they have a pretty good chance to make a run because of the versatility he adds to the starting lineup. The other thing that would have to happen is out of their control. Everything runs through Cleveland in the Eastern Conference. If the Pacers want to compete, they will need something to happen to Cleveland because I don’t think they can beat Cleveland in a head to head series right now.