NBA: Contender or Pretender? Legitimate Threats or Bad Bets? (Part One)

Although it’s only November, there’s been a handful of franchises that have already showcased their ability to perform at a high level – but which of these teams can be considered legit contenders and who is just pretending? For this article, we’ll be taking a look at the NBA’s best teams in terms of win percentage and breaking down why we think their starts have been either justifiable or in some cases, implausible.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers, behind first-year coach Frank Vogel, have gotten off to their best start (11-2) since their 2010-2011 campaign when they began the season with a 13-2 record and eventually went on to win the championship over the Orlando Magic.

Entering the season as one of the favorites to win the 2019-2020 NBA Championship, it’s really not much of a surprise that this new-look Lakers squad has been competitive but the biggest unknown was always their defensive ability. So far, behind the likes of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee, Dwight Howard and much more, they have quieted their critics and have not only met, but exceeded any sort of expectations set for their defense.

Anthony Davis currently ranks first in the NBA in terms of blocks, with an average of 3.1 per-game. (Photo/

Ranking first in points allowed, field-goals allowed and blocks per-game, their defense has been absolutely stifling out of the gate and with a roster built around offensive powerhouses like LeBron, Davis and Kyle Kuzma, they shouldn’t have much of a problem posting 100-120 points on a nightly basis. Luckily for them though, even if the offense were to have an off-night here and there, their defense, which currently ranks atop the entire NBA, should keep them within striking range against even some of the league’s most potent offenses.

Throughout his career, LeBron has proved that he can lead even the weakest or most depleted rosters to the postseason but over the course of the offseason, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka made it a top-priority to surround his top-player with talent and for that reason, the Lakers are as much of a contender as anyone in the league right now.

Boston Celtics

After the departure of key-players such as Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, the Boston Celtics were no longer one of the favorites for the title but after a strong start to the season, they have gained a tremendous amount of respect throughout the league.

With one of the league’s youngest rosters, the Celtics entered the season with the least amount of average playing experience per player (2.73 years) but that hasn’t hindered them from getting out to an 11-2 start, sitting atop the Eastern Conference and trailing the Lakers by just a half game for the league’s best overall record.

The Boston Celtics currently sit just a half-game back from the Lakers for the best record in the NBA. (

Fortunately for the Celtics, they’ve had one of the easiest schedules up until this point, having already faced eight teams with a losing record, including four games against teams in the bottom-five of the NBA. There strength of schedule is guaranteed to rise throughout the course of the season and for this reason, their early success seems a bit unsustainable going forward.

Brad Stevens is one of the premier coaches in the NBA and by no means will the Celtics be a pushover, but I don’t believe they belong in the same conversation as some of the league’s most star-studded franchises. I’ll have to call them a pretender for now but if you’re a fan of long-shots, the Celtics are just that.

Houston Rockets

After acquiring all-star point guard, Russell Westbrook, the Houston Rockets further bolstered their backcourt, which now consists of both the 2017 NBA MVP (Westbrook) and the 2018 NBA MVP, James Harden. Kind of scary to think about, right?

After the July 11th trade that sent Chris Paul and a boatload of picks to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Russell Westbrook, many believed that Westbrook and Harden, two ball-dominant players, could eventually end up butting heads in Houston, but that hasn’t been the case up until this point.

On July 11th, 2019, the Houston Rockets went all-in on former MVP Russell Westrbook, joining him with his once-Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, James Harden.

You might be quick to forget that the former MVP’s have a history of playing together. In 2012, these two, along with Kevin Durant, advanced all the way to the NBA Finals where they were eventually overpowered by a Miami Heat team consisting of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and company but throughout their careers, the two have expressed interest in reuniting forces and thanks to Rockets’ GM Daryl Morey, that was made possible over the offseason.

Perhaps the league’s most prolific backcourt in the NBA, James Harden and Russell Westbrook have led their squad to an 11-3 start to the season. (Photo/USAToday)

They haven’t just gotten along so far, they’ve flourished. Currently in the midst of an eight-game winning streak dating back to November 4th, the Houston Rockets rank second in the West with a record of 11-3 and have outscored their opponents by an average margin of 14.3 points per game during that stretch. Scoring certainly wont be an issue for the Rockets as they currently lead the league in that category, averaging 119.5 points per game behind James Harden’s league-leading 39.3 points per-contest. Yes, you read that right – he’s averaging nearly 40 points a game.

What could eventually hurt the Rockets though, is their defense – which currently ranks in the bottom-portion of the league in a variety of categories:

  • 20th in opponent points per game
  • 19th in opponent field goals made
  • 25th in opponent field goals attempted
  • 26th in opponent three-pointers made
  • 27th in opponent three-pointers attempted

Their poor defense hasn’t been reflected in their record due to the fact that they’re posting 120 points a game on a nightly basis but it should be interesting to see them matchup against some of the premier defensive teams such as the Lakers, Clippers and Jazz later on in the season.

With all this being said, I’d have to say the Rockets are a contender to win the NBA title but what’s worth-noting going forward, is the relationship between Harden and Westbrook, if they continue to build chemistry or begin bickering with one another.

*This article will be continued with the Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat*

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