With the NBA season now a quarter complete, it is time for The Argus’ official, way-too-early team rankings! From our early vantage point, we’ll tell you which teams are legit, which ones are frauds, and what viewers can expect for the rest of the season.
Eastern Conference – John Vernaglia, Sports Editor
Once again, the Eastern Conference is a mess of pretending teams, with two or three teams with enough legitimate talent to go all the way to the finals.
Starting at the top with the 76ers (frauds), the most notable change is adding Doc Rivers as their coach. However, let’s get serious, coaching doesn’t really matter. Embiid is soft, Simmons can’t shoot, and Tobias Harris is a glorified sixth man. The Bucks (fraud) made insignificant off-season moves with the addition of overrated Jrue Holiday and the botched trade for Bogdan Bogdanović. I am left disappointed in Giannis’ ability to close out games and shoot threes. To Bucks fans, I say, “enjoy another early playoff exit.”
The Nets (legit) are so unlikeable that it pains me to give them the rare legit rating; however, when you have three of the top ten players in the NBA, you’re going to be a contender. Add to that a Kyrie Irving, who is motivated to prove that he is a top player, and this team is a matchup nightmare for anyone. The Pacers (frauds) would be a hilarious team to buy the hype on. The perennially scrappy 4 to 5 seed is primed for an exciting 6 game series in the first round where they battle, someone gets injured, and they lose. Rinse and repeat.
The Celtics (hometown legit) are one of the most difficult teams to assess. Brown and Tatum are likely the second-best pairing in the East, but the rest of the team is suspect at best, especially brittle Kemba Walker. I saw something on Instagram that they might swap Walker for Westbrook, so that’s pretty cool. The Celtics will once again make a cheeky little run, but this time they might actually push for the finals, as long as Tatum lives up to his previous playoff performances.
The Hornets (fun) are one of my favorite teams, but are obviously a couple of seasons away. The Raptors (frauds) are showing that rather than the genius of overrated Nick Nurse, their lone ring was fully the product of the singular greatness of Kawhi Leonard, not a great system or team-building. The Heat (frauds) are certainly not as bad as they are playing, but perhaps everyone (myself included) bought the hype of Tyler Herro a bit too much. Bam Adebayo looks like a stud, but he’s surrounded by a team that clearly doesn’t have enough firepower. The last team in the current playoff picture is the Knicks (frauds). They should be Obi hoppin’ into the lottery sometime in March, but hey, maybe this time a great guard will be waiting!
Western Conference – Lewis Woloch, Contributing Writer
Is Donovan Mitchell the best player in the Western Conference? No. Is he even in the top ten? Debatable. But regardless of Mitchell’s individual talent, his team the Utah Jazz (legit) have put the league on notice by maintaining the best record in the NBA almost halfway through the season. With two huge wins over the LA Clippers, the Jazz has yet to clash with the Lakers, but boasts a tight-knit group with great chemistry, a defensive anchor in Rudy Gobert, and Mitchell’s raw scoring ability. We’ll see what happens when the Lakers head to Utah, but no matter the outcome, King James’ squad (legit) should still be considered the front runner in the West. The additions of veterans Marc Gasol, Montrez Harrell, and Dennis Schroder bolstered the already formidable duo of James and Davis. However, pay attention to the upcoming diagnosis of Davis’ leg injury. It could change things.
The Clippers are doing well right now, but Ty Lue just simply is not a top-tier coach, Paul George has yet to prove himself in the playoffs, and Lou Williams isn’t as reliable of a third option as he used to be. The Suns (frauds) are weirdly good (I guess their bubble glory was legit) and fun to watch, and the playoff experience of Chris Paul could make a playoff series interesting, but the rest of Phoenix is too young and inexperienced. Devin Booker is red hot right now, but will definitely cool off at some point as the Suns slip to the bottom half of the eight playoff teams. Then we have the Blazers (borderline). Will Damian Lilliard ever get a ring? Probably not, but he and CJ have been hooping together for too long to count them out completely.
I would put the Nuggets (legit) on the level of the Lakers, just from watching them in last season’s bubble. What has happened to the team since then? A very rocky start to the season, a definite resurgence, Nikola Jokic’s best season of his young career, and the ascension of Michael Porter Jr. to a much-needed third scoring option for the Nuggets. The Spurs (frauds) are the Spurs, and Pop will get the most out of all his players as per usual, but DeRozan and Aldridge are past their primes and I’m sure all we’ll see from their playoff performance.
The Warriors (frauds) are a team of one, and while he may be the MVP of the league, it’s tough to win the finals with your second-best player averaging 5.2 points per game (PPG). The Mavericks (frauds) likewise have put all their eggs in the guard basket with Luka and Kristaps and have been rewarded with a scrambled mess. They appear closer to the lottery than the playoffs.
John Vernaglia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lewis Woloch can be reached at email@example.com.