The Three Tiers of the NBA

This year’s shortened season has been notable for a multitude of reasons, including injuries and an unprecedented number of consecutive games, but perhaps most remarkable is that the NBA is starting to show three distinct genera­tions of players fighting for the spotlight. After discussing extensively with my dad, a diehard NBA fan who raised me into the NBA fanatic I am today, we came up with three groups fight­ing for NBA dominance: The old guard of play­ers around 33 years or older, the “Big Three” tier of players around age 27 and the young guns from ages 20 to 23. They each have a dis­tinct style both on and off the court and seem to prove the NBA theory that stardom comes in waves.

The “old school” group is easy to identify; they are the teams that have stuck with these players and are still competitive today. There are essen­tially four ringleaders of this group, each with at least one ring and each still poised to make a run in the playoffs this very season. They are the Celt­ics, Spurs, Lakers and Mavericks. The only other Hall-of-Famer still balling outside of this group in this age bracket is Steve Nash, who is putting up yet another fantastic year for a the revolt­ingly bad Phoenix Suns and their career killing owner, Robert Sarver. #FreeSteveNash. Anyway, the most interesting thing is that over the past 11 years, one of the three Western Conference teams has played in every single finals. Every last one. In fact, there are only two rings not won by these four over that period. These teams are still win­ning, and have really put the screws to the next group mentioned.

The group my dad has not-so-affection­ately dubbed the ‘enough already’ group is in a tough position at this point, and whether it is self-inflicted is in the eye of the beholder. This group is full of players mainly drafted in 2003, 2004 and 2005, all around the 27-to-30 age range. The players that come to mind in this group are Dwight Howard (26), Deron Wil­liams (27), Carmelo Anthony (27), LeBron James (27) and Dwyane Wade (30). While Chris Paul remains on the borderline of this group, I prefer to put him in the next group at age 26, especially because he has missed significant playing time over the years and is now directly associated with the youngest phenom in the game.

This group was supposed to be the future of the NBA, the new champions, but as far as I can tell, they have yet to truly live up to the hype. Dwyane Wade is the only member with a ring, Melo has been past the first round of the play­offs once, Dwight Howard has been swept out of the finals, and LeBron is LeBron. The “Big Three Era” idea of playing with your close friends has come out of these players, and it remains to be seen if they will actually gain rings out of it. I actually think that there is a decent chance that these players will not win many, if any, more rings over the next few years, primarily because of our final group.

I cannot express how highly I think of the young guns. Not only do I love the youth and skill of Blake Griffin (22), Kevin Durant (23), Russell Westbrook (23), Kevin Love (23), Ricky Rubio (21) and Derrick Rose (23), but I love that every one of these players, except Rose, has helped transform a traditionally horrible franchise into a contender (Although the Bulls were pretty ter­rible when D-Rose arrived.). The idea about each of these players is that they each are either fantastically athletic, or they do some element of the game extremely well. D-Rose, Westbrook, Griffin and Durant are built to play ball, Rubio is potentially one of the best passers the game has seen in a long time and Kevin Love’s rebounding ability is unmatched. Despite their young age, the teams, other than the Timberwolves, are all con­siderable contenders and have legitimate shots at the championship.

The interesting thing about these groups is that it is possible that the middle group gets skipped in terms championship rings. The old group still seems to be clawing on for a few more rings. The Spurs are playing unbelievably well. Dirk and the Mavs are still a solid team. The Celtics are a trade for a center like Chris Kaman away from being contenders again and Lakers still have Kobe and cannot be counted out. If you assume that these teams can still compete for three more years, the young group will have reached their prime and will likely be favored to grab a championship. The middle tier has their share of problems for the foreseeable future – the Knicks are still a mess, regardless of their Lin streak, and it doesn’t look like Carmelo and Amar’e will be able to win or leave there anytime soon.

Bosh, Wade and LeBron are having a great season, but Wade’s health is coming into question, to the point that we are unable to know whether he will play much longer. LeBron still has fourth-quarter issues, as shown in the Chicago/Miami game earlier this year. Deron Williams and Dwight Howard appear to have the best chance to win starting next year, but if Dwight goes to New Jersey, he and D-Will will be on an unproven team with a terrible supporting cast, so you can’t predict their future.

The young guns have a chance to finish their development and start winning, and if the Bulls, Clippers or Thunder grab a championship this year, I don’t think they will look back, and I could see all of those promised “LeBron James and Friends” rings begin to slip away.

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