Pretender Or Contender: Are These 4 Western Conference Teams For Real?

The NBA season is just over two weeks old. We’re beginning to get a feel for how various teams work together on the court. Which ones can genuinely compete for the NBA title?

1. Golden State Warriors

This is the last team in the Western Conference to lose a game this season, but as soon as the Warriors lost once, they lost again soon afterward. Nevertheless, the Warriors were a tough team to knock out in the first round of the playoffs last season, and they were a hard team to eliminate in the 2013 playoffs as well. This season, the Warriors are blending offense and defense better than they have in the past. The Warriors are seventh in the league in offense, averaging over 104 points per game, and they’re 11th in defense, giving up 97.4 points per game. That seven-point differential is an excellent statistic, and if Golden State can maintain it, the Warriors are going to be a factor in the push for a Western Conference title and an NBA Finals appearance. 

Verdict: Contender

2. Memphis Grizzlies 

It’s true that Memphis has the Marc Gasol-Zach Randolph connection, with Tony Allen being a perimeter defender who can shut just about anyone down. However, the Grizzlies are going to continue to struggle if they can’t find more offense and more outside shooting in particular. Memphis entered Thursday night with the best defense in the league, at 89.4 points allowed per game. However, the team’s offense averaged under 95 points, placing 24th in the NBA. Memphis is definitely a playoff team, but until the offense gets at least somewhat better, this team has a second-round ceiling instead of a second-round floor. Teams that are contenders have a second-round floor.

Verdict: Pretender

3. Houston Rockets 

The Rockets have been very impressive to start the season. The big key with Houston is that James Harden, after playing for the United States men’s basketball team in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball, is playing active defense. He really seems to care about competing at both ends of the court. With that kind of commitment from Harden, Houston becomes a much better and more dangerous team. Chandler Parsons is gone, but Houston is compensating for him with Trevor Ariza and the rest of the supporting cast. Houston seems to be making adjustments that a lot of people didn’t think head coach Kevin McHale was capable of. The Rockets might flop as the season continues, but right now, everything about them screams contender.

Verdict: Contender

4. Sacramento Kings 

The Kings are a lot better – not just a little, but a lot. DeMarcus Cousins is playing the best defense of his career. Rudy Gay is getting work done as a low-post player who is drawing fouls and getting other teams into major defensive problems. Sacramento is playing with a toughness and focus that have been long missing. This team has a really good chance of making the playoffs. However, a title contender is still a long way away for a team that was brutally awful last season. The Kings have improved a lot, but they started the season at the bottom of the Western Conference. They’re a ton better, but they’re still a pretender.

Verdict: Pretender