For the greater part of the last four years the Golden State Warriors have dominated the NBA. They have won three out of the last four NBA championships, and over 80% of their regular season games during that span. It is safe to say that the Warriors are a modern NBA dynasty. With the addition of Boogie Cousins over last offseason, most people were willing to hand the Warriors yet another NBA championship. However, as the 2018-19 season is starting to wrap up, there has been more than one team that has taken the next step. Teams such as the Bucks, Thunder, Raptors, and Nuggets have all made great improvements from a season ago. These four teams have the best chance to dethrone the Warriors and here is why.
Milwaukee Bucks: The Milwaukee Bucks currently hold the best record in the NBA at 46-14, and have arguably the best player in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis has yet again improved himself from the previous season, improving upon his point, rebound, and assist totals while shooting at a higher percentage. On a bad day Giannis is a top 3 candidate for MVP, and has placed his team in great position to make an NBA finals run. Khris Middleton, and Malcom Brogdon are consistent three point shooters, and Eric Bledsoe is a viable role player. The Bucks weakness of shooting last season has now become a strength, and that has taken them to the next level. With a player that has the amount of talent that Giannis does, they will have a chance at taking down the Warriors.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Since January, Paul George has been on a mission to avenge last years first round exit at the hands of the Utah Jazz. What was once unquestionably Russell Westrbrook’s team is now Paul George’s. He is in the thick of the MVP conversation, and has his team hot at the right time. Although Russell Westbrook has been known for his inefficiencies as a shooter, with Paul George carrying more of the work load, Westbrook can become more of a playmaker rather than the primary scorer. Additional contributions from Steven Adams on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, and solid guard play from Dennis Schroeder have also contributed to the Thunder’s success. If George and Westbrook can continue to compliment each other like they have of late, a Western Conference Finals bid could be in their future.
Toronto Raptors: Over this past offseason, it was sad to see the Raptors trade away their long time all star Demar DeRozan. However, this move has paid off in a large way for the Raptors. Prior to this season, the Raptors could not get past LeBron James in the eastern conference. Now that Lebron is out West, and Kawhi Leonard is in a Raptors uniform, things are looking upward for a change. The Raptors are a well balanced team, playing well on both sides of the basketball. The addition of Marc Gasol at the trade deadline will help with that, as he is still a very capable defender. Furthermore, the Raptors have a very deep bench with players such as Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, Jodie Meeks, and Jeremy Lin all averaging in double figures. Although the Raptors have never been to the NBA finals, this could be the year they finally break that streak.
Denver Nuggets: The Denver Nuggets surprised everyone this year as they have shot up the Western Conference standings with an impressive 41-18 record so far. Although most people thought this team would take the next step, hardly anyone saw this amount of success coming. The duo of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic has been huge for this team, and both have improved tremendously this season. Isaiah Thomas, who has recently returned from injury could be an interesting piece for them. Although he has not had as much success in recent years with the Cavaliers and Lakers, if he can be half of what he was with the Celtics then the Denver Nuggets could have hit a gold mine. The one downside of this team is the lack of playoff experience. This will especially hurt them in a loaded western conference. However, if they keep playing team basketball as they have all season, they have as good a shot as anybody to take down the Warriors.