A quick look around the NBA reveals a number of strong records and contending teams. Basketball is bubbling with a slew of high-powered squads and several 7-1 and 6-2 records.
But who’s the best team in the NBA? Is it the surprise New York Knicks, or the steady San Antonio Spurs? Maybe it’s the defending champion Miami Heat, or last year’s runner up, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The NBA season is just getting started, but the debates have been going since the summer. Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk try to identify the hottest team on the hardwood.
Riley: My money is on the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s easy to pick the best record and go from there—or simply pick the Miami Heat—but I’m going for the team playing the best ball, and that’s the Clip Show. From top to bottom, this team is loaded. They have stars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and a big man in DeAndre Jordan who might be the most athletic center in the league. Their wing depth is strong with Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups and Eric Bledsoe, and combo guard Jamal Crawford is playing like the top acquisition of the offseason. When you add in combo front man Lamar Odom, this team is deep, strong, athletic and simply the best in the business.
Green: The Clippers are strong but the Knicks have all the intangibles. A strong home court and a slew of guards sew up New York’s claim to fame. Carmelo Anthony is one of the best scorers in the league, if not the best, and this team still has some top players on the injured/reserve list. Once Amar’e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert return, you’re talking about impact scoring and air-tight defense on the wing from Shumpert. New York has two steady guards with Raymond Felton and the running legend Jason Kidd, who I would say was the top acquisition, not Crawford. They have three-point shooters in abundance between J.R. Smith and Steve Novak. New York is already one of the league’s top teams now, so imagine them at full strength—scary.
Riley: Now granted, Los Angeles doesn’t play the type of defense that New York does, but that’ll come in time. They’re still a young team who are still coming together after the major additions of Odom and Crawford. Keep in mind that Billups missed much of last year with an injury, so the team chemistry isn’t all the way there yet—but it’s getting close. Their backups are good enough to beat you by themselves, as they just did to Miami. But never underestimate the power of a premier point guard. Paul alone gives the Clippers the edge over the Knicks, in my opinion. He’s the best lead man in the business right now and Los Angeles is reaping the benefits.
Green: A top-flight point guard will take you places, but recent history shows you don’t need one to be in the Finals. What you do need, however, is someone at the forward position who is impossible cover, like Anthony. Last year it was Durant and James that piloted their teams to the Finals. And in recent years, the likes of Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzski and Kobe Bryant have made appearances. Point guards are important in this league, but if you have a guy like Anthony, that’s when you have a real edge.
Riley: Butler is serviceable, but the way Crawford is playing right now is literally lights out. He’s connecting from deep and has a killer one-on-one move. Los Angeles has it all, and the more teams they run out of the building like they did Miami, the more I believe they’re the best team.
Green: We still have yet to see New York at full strength, so until we do I think it’s silly to even try to dismiss them, especially since they were the last undefeated team in the NBA. Stoudemire is an All-Star talent and Shumpert was a premier defender in his rookie year before getting hurt. If these two return to form, then it could be lights out for the rest of the league. We’ve seen the Clippers peak already, but we have yet to even see New York with their full roster on the floor. What we have seen so far is a Knicks squad that has only lost once—and then only to an impressive Memphis Grizzles squad, who I could argue is a better Western Conference title contender than your Clippers. The Knicks are back, baby—consider the NBA on full notice!