With the NBA season having tipped off Tuesday night, I’ve taken it upon myself as a truly amateur sports analyst to separate the Association into tiers. Without any further ado, let’s take a look at each conference.


Teams that can make the NBA Finals:

Cleveland Cavaliers — I could have just written “LeBron James” here and left it at that. The Cavs are the odds-on favorite in the East, and for good reason. Cleveland still has the best player in the world, they didn’t lose any of their major weapons from last season and the Cavs have had an entire season to gel.

Washington Wizards — If the Wizards weren’t in the abysmal Eastern Conference, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. The only reason I’m convinced that my Washington Wizards — can you guess where I’m from? — are one of the two or three best teams in the conference is because of how deplorable I expect the East to be. Still, John Wall is a bona fide superstar, Bradley Beal is one of the five-best shooting guards in the league at age 22, and Otto Porter Jr. might actually be good. I don’t expect the Wiz to win it all, but they’re my pick to battle Cleveland for the East.

Miami Heat — This pick might be a bit controversial, given how much success last year’s one-seed Atlanta had with their 3-and-D style, but Pat Riley really put together a talented roster after the King’s return to Cleveland. Chris Bosh is healthy, Dwayne Wade can still post 19-plus PPG, Hassan Whiteside is a rebounding machine and Justise Winslow is probably the best value pick in this year’s draft. That’s a recipe for success, and I haven’t even mentioned point guard Goran Dragic.

Playoff locks, but championship long shots:

Chicago Bulls — Derrick Rose can’t stay healthy, Joakim Noah might not actually be good and this team still can’t figure out how to rotate its players. Compound all of that with the fact that Fred Hoiberg has exactly zero NBA coaching experience, and you’ve got a recipe for disappointment. The Bulls will make the playoffs, based largely on the play of Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol, but they’re not a threat to make any serious noise in the postseason.

Atlanta Hawks — Mike Budenholzer isn’t Gregg Popovich, and the Hawks aren’t the Spurs. While their Spurs-esque offense might have worked last year, Washington and Cleveland exposed the Hawks in the playoffs. This rotation simply isn’t that talented and teams have figured out the Hawks’ pass-happy offense. Two of its best players last season, DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap, had career years while gunning for big contracts and Kyle Korver is basically an NBA geriatric at age 34 — the Hawks aren’t a contender.

In the dumps:

New York Knicks — Honestly it was hard to pick just one New York team for this section, given how embarrassingly awful the Nets are going to be. But, Phil Jackson’s train wreck is still the bigger eyesore. Get ready for 82 games of Kristaps Porzingis getting mauled in the low-post while Carmelo Anthony jacks up 35 shots a night. Excited yet, New York fans?


Teams that can make the NBA Finals:

San Antonio Spurs — Congratulations to the Spurs on the 2015–16 NBA championship! Seriously, the starting lineup looks menacing enough with Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldrige all sharing the floor, but factor in David West and Manu Ginobli off the bench and this roster is downright terrifying. Gregg Popovich is one of the three best coaches ever and the Spurs look incredible. The only way this team misses out on the Finals is if Tim Duncan’s pact with the Devil ends and Father Time finally catches up to him.

Los Angeles Clippers — Will this be the year Chris Paul and company finally make it out of the second round? Given the Clippers’ excellent summer signings, Los Angeles’ second team can compete for its first title this season. I love LA’s added bench depth, I love watching Blake Griffin crush dreams in the low-post and I really love playoff Paul Pierce. The biggest questions the Clips will face this season is whether Chris Paul can continue to produce MVP-caliber numbers and whether the Lance Stephenson signing will pan out.

Oklahoma City Thunder — A lot of basketball pundits forgot about the Thunder last year after Kevin Durant’s injury troubles. Despite missing one of the three best players in the NBA, the Thunder still came within one game of making the playoffs in the murderous West. With its big three back intact, the Thunder could very well win 65 games this season and take the conference by storm. And although losing a head coach is rarely viewed as a positive, the firing of Scott Brooks only makes the Thunder look better on paper.

Playoff locks, but championship long shots:

Golden State Warriors — This is disrespectful, I know. These guys are the champs, but frankly, the Warriors didn’t get any better this offseason. Golden State may have the reigning MVP and it may have one of the most disruptive defenders in the league, but the Warriors caught just about every lucky break possible en route to the 2015 title. Any team with Steph Curry is competitive, but the Warriors won’t repeat.

Houston Rockets — Even though Ty Lawson’s addition solves the point guard problem on paper, the Rockets don’t really have a legitimate shot at the title. Dwight Howard has always been, and will continue to be, too soft in the playoffs. Furthermore, James Harden doesn’t really have anyone to ease the crunch-time scoring burden. Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer aren’t going to cut it.

In the dumps:

Los Angeles Lakers — What happened? We’re five years removed from the Lakers being title contenders and this team looks like a GM’s worst nightmare. Kobe is approximately one million years old and still one of the highest-paid players in the league, Nick Young is being relied upon as a crunch-time shooter, and Julius Randle’s 2014–15 season ended in less than 20 minutes. Simply put, it can’t get any worse, even if Roy Hibbert’s offensive play makes it look that way.

Marc Cugnon is a junior in Calhoun College. Contact him at marc.cugnon@yale.edu.

I'm a Belgian-American originally hailing from a rural town in Virginia. My first foray into reporting was founding a news paper at my high school called "The Conversation."