LeBron James’ sudden departure from Miami in June, ending the “big three” of himself, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, set off a series of events that shifted the league’s balance of power. Compounding this, the other dominant teams—the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, the Indiana Pacers, and the Los Angeles Clippers—all battled injuries, and fell behind. Three new teams, the Atlanta Hawks, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, stand atop the NBA pyramid, and are poised to dominate into the future.
The Atlanta Hawks are the feel-good story of the year for several reasons. There are no superstars. The Hawks are a team of good role-players, all of which perform their role at an extremely high level. Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague play in the system of Coach “Bud” Budenholzer, and to win, they simply execute. In many ways, they are are a carbon-copy of the wildly successful, five-time championship winning dynastic Spurs. Budenholzer learned under the tutelage of Coach Gregg “Pop” Popovich, thereby strengthening the connection. The Hawks are likely to make a deep run into the playoffs; they are a formidable foe, but are on a collision course with the Cleveland Cavaliers—and LeBron James’ new “big three.”
The Cleveland Cavaliers started off the season sluggishly, posting a record of 19-20, but ever since James took his midseason two-week sabbatical, the Cavaliers have been almost unstoppable. The Cavaliers starting line-up (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov) have posted the highest “real plus-minus” (the net change in score when each player is on the court) rating of any team since the All-Star break. Irving, only 22 years old, has emerged as one of the league’s premier point guards. And while Love has taken a step back, his skills have spaced the floor for the team’s offense, thus strengthening the team. The Cavaliers are a heavy favorite to make the Finals; however, there is one juggernaut that stands in the way—the Golden State Warriors.
The Golden State Warriors, after firing last season’s inept coach Mark Jackson and hiring basketball wizard Steve Kerr, have looked unstoppable. Kerr, who played under arguably the two greatest coaches in the history of the game—Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson—has turned the Warriors into a historically good team. The flashy Steph Curry, the team’s best player, has emerged as the leading MVP candidate. The squad is the first since the 1996 Chicago Bulls (Michael Jordan’s best team), to have both the league’s best offense and best defense. While the west is historically good, the Warriors are the heavy favorites to emerge out of the conference and win the title.
The league has been transformed. It is fascinating to see how events will unfold. Will the underrated Hawks shock the world, or will LeBron James once again hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy? Or will the Warriors win, and start a new NBA dynasty? Only time will tell.
Niklas Palomba is a first-year and is undeclared. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.