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Who Are The NBA’s Legit Title Contenders This Season?

By Daniel Strickland on October 31, 2012.

Zach Lowe at Grantland argued that there are only four, but that was before the OKC Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets.

So, make that just three legitimate title contenders — the Heat, the Lakers, and your favorite team in silver and black.

(Photo: Bahram Mark Sobhani, AP)

From Grantland.com (“Who are the NBA’s top title contenders this season? And who’s trailing the pack?”) :

It’s fine if you want to slide them into the next tier. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are old, and neither is quite capable of serving as a full-time go-to scoring centerpiece against dialed-in defenses. The Western Conference Finals had the feel of one team figuring out how to beat the other, in part because the brilliant Ginobili, the Spurs’ best all-around player, couldn’t score big on a night-to-night basis.

But Duncan and Ginobili stay productive every year, and the Spurs could find enough incremental internal improvements to offset any Ginobili/Duncan drop-off. Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter should get even better, with Leonard perhaps developing into a top-shelf defender and a wing more capable of working off the dribble when the ball swings his way. Boris Diaw has a full season to help Gregg Popovich find the right balance in his big-man rotation, and Stephen Jackson is around to shoot and present small-ball options should that ideal big-man rotation never emerge. Nando de Colo and Patty Mills provide healthy competition for Gary Neal and could help Popovich limit Ginobili’s minutes.

And again: This team outscored opponents by an unthinkable 15 points per 100 possessions over 30-plus games last season, per NBA.com’s stats database. That kind of dominance earns some preseason respect, even if the Thunder left the Spurs’ defense and rotation in tatters.

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