With the NBA season less than a month away, I will be breaking down both the Western and Eastern Conference. I will be going over major offseason moves, team projections, playoff seeding, and conference awards (MVP, DPOY, MIP, ROY, Coach of the Year, and Sixth-Man)
Welcome to the Wild, Wild West (to say the least). The Western Conference is looking as tough as ever after a whirlwind of an offseason. Stars that were once representing the East in the All-Star Game are now teamed up and are looking to knock off the juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors. Not to mention the amount of future “super teams” and abundance of youth that is developing in the West. But how will they fare? How will the West look this season?
WESTERN CONFERENCE TEAM BREAKDOWN
Golden State Warriors-
Projected Record: 66-16
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Nick Young, Omri Casspi, Jordan Bell (Rookie)
The rich just got richer, the Warriors are on a mission to repeat as champions this season, and the dream of winning 3 out of the last 4 championships is looking like a reality. The Warriors signed veterans Nick Young and Omri Casspi for shooting depth, and another year of the “Death Lineup” brings nightmares to defenses. The chemistry of the Dubs is as high as ever. KD, Curry, and company are clearly the best team in the league and everybody is trying to play catch-up. But will they win 70+ games as they did two years ago? Unlikely, but I would not put it past them to do so.
Los Angeles Lakers-
Projected Record: 33-49
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Traded D’Angelo Russell to Nets for Brook Lopez, signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lonzo Ball (Rookie)
It’s the Lonzo show in L.A., with flashes of “Show-Time” the Lakers are primed for the future with one of the youngest rosters in the league (Ingram, 20, Ball, 19, Randle 22, Nance Jr. 24) and with a good mix of veterans such as Caldwell-Pope, Lopez, and Deng, the Lakers should be a much improved team this season. Now, I am not a Lavar Ball doubter by any means, but I believe the Lakers are a season or two away from making the playoffs and winning 40+ games. Look for Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram to work together and become one of the leagues up-and-coming duos. The League is always more fun when teams like the Lakers are exciting to watch, and with Magic running the organization, the Staples Center will be rockin’.
Los Angeles Clippers-
Projected Record: 47-35
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Traded Chris Paul to Rockets for Patrick Beverly, Sam Dekker, and Lou Williams, traded for Danilo Gallinari, and signed Milos Teodosic
Although “Lob City” is officially over, the Clippers still have some nice talent surrounding Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. As important as Chris Paul was to the Clips, adding depth at almost every position this offseason was what the Clippers needed. Now they will be a playoff team this season, but don’t expect very much with the Clippers going deep into the Western playoff picture. I expect Blake Griffin to put up All-Star numbers (if healthy) and of course DeAndre Jordan to finally improve his free throw percentages.
Projected Record: 26-56
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Signed Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, and George Hill, Drafted De’Aaron Fox and Harry Giles
The Kings are a youthful team who are going to get better with time. By re-building from the ground up, shipping out DeMarcus Cousins, and re-vamping the culture, slowly but surely Sacramento will be back on the map. Mixing the youth of the Kings with long time veterans Zach Randolph and Vince Carter is important for growth and grit. The Kings are going to be a high-energy, fast paced team who will compete on both ends of the floor, and might upset a few playoff teams this season. Also, playing in the brand new Golden 1 Center is a plus for a team looking to change its culture.
Projected Record: 30-52
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Drafted Josh Jackson
Devin Booker leads an exciting young roster this season for Phoenix. The guard heavy Suns can put up numbers night in and night out, but do they have enough to close games late? Devin Booker did have a handful of game winners last season, yet the ability to close games is the weakness of the Suns, along with the lack of experience. Defense will be the keys to success for Phoenix. Look for Marquese Chriss and Josh Jackson to be defensive anchors alongside Tyson Chandler.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected Record: 54-28
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Traded for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Signed Patrick Patterson
OKC is back ladies and gents; Russell Westbrook is surrounded by offensive fire power with the additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Oklahoma City is going punch for punch with the Golden State Warriors, with multiple line-ups they could throw at you. Westbrook, PG, and “Hoodie” Melo can combine for 80+ points on any given night, and with Sam Presti keeping defensive anchors Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, the Thunder are as balanced as ever. Carmelo Anthony is motivated after a long offseason dealing with the Knicks, look for Anthony to have a more efficient year, and tons of pressure taken off of him. I can see Oklahoma City competing in the West Finals against GSW.
Portland Trail Blazers-
Projected Record: 43-39
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Drafted Caleb Swanigan
The Northwest Division is difficult; I believe that all 5 teams have a chance at making the playoffs. When the “worst” team there seals 40+ plus wins, and is on the fence for an 8th seed, you know it’s a tough division. Portland is gritty, they’re exciting, and boy can they put up numbers. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are one lethal backcourt who can take out any team on their own. With a healthy Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers will be competitive as ever. Watch for C.J. McCollum to have a career year after working with Melo in the offseason.
Projected Record: 44-38
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Traded for Ricky Rubio, Drafted Donovan Mitchell
Defense and smart play are the reasons why the Utah Jazz will be in the run for the Western Conference Playoffs. By adding veteran point guard Ricky Rubio to distribute the rock to big man Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors, and rising scorer Rodney Hood, the Jazz will push the pace all game long. Although losing Gordon Hayward was a big blow, the Jazz will recover and clinch a 7th or 8th seed in the West.
Projected Record: 50-32
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Traded Zac Lavine, Kris Dunn, 1st round pick for Jimmy Butler, Signed Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson, and Jeff Teague
The Tom Thibodeau led “Timber-Bulls” are expecting big things in Minnesota this season. With the acquisition of Jimmy Butler the Wolves have another scoring and defensive threat that they desperately needed. The Wolves are looking to end the longest playoff drought in the NBA, this season. (Last made playoffs in ’03-’04) With rising stars Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns being coached up by the defensive minded Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves could finish top-5 in every defensive statistical category. The second unit for the Wolves will be led by one of the greatest off-the-bench scorers ever in Jamal Crawford. I see Minnesota competing for a top-4 seed in the West this season.
Projected Record: 45-37
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Signing Paul Millsap and traded for Trey Lyles
The Nuggets fell one game short to the Portland Trail Blazers last season for the 8th seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets are a fiery, young, and gritty team in the west. Led by European big man/Point Center Nikola Jokic, who is a mismatch for just about any team, the Nuggets are in great position to secure a playoff spot in the West. The additions of Paul Millsap and Trey Lyles give Denver depth, scoring, and rebounding, The Northwest Division matchups this season will be a battle, but look for Denver to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12.
San Antonio Spurs-
Projected Record: 56-26
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Signed Rudy Gay
Pop and Kawhi will once again finish in the top-4 of the West and will boast one of the best defenses in the NBA. By signing forward Rudy Gay, the Spurs have another scorer who they can rely on to give them 16-20 points a night. With the collection of role players and veterans, the Spurs are a team in which you can never count out. The half court movement and change of pace for San Antonio makes them hard to beat. Kawhi Leonard will once again be in the MVP and DPOY race, potentially being the first player since Michael Jordan to win both awards in the same season.
Projected Record: 53-29
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Traded Patrick Beverly, Lou Williams, and Sam Dekker for Chris Paul, signed PJ Tucker, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
The Rockets are once again on pace to finish top-4 in the West this season. With MVP Runner-up James Harden paired with the ultimate Floor General Chris Paul, the ball will be moving constantly and the pace of the Rockets will be faster than ever. Shooters Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, and Eric Gordon provide some serious fire power, and if the Rockets can commit to the defensive side of the ball, they can be dangerous to challenge the Warriors. The Rockets will finish top 3-5 in points per game this season, and once again James Harden will be cooking up defenses. The main question is who will be running point at all times for Houston? Both Paul and Harden are ball-dominate guards. Expect high scores each game for the Rockets.
New Orleans Pelicans-
Projected Record: 44-38
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Signing of Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo
New Orleans might be one of the more interesting teams in the West this season. They have talent to make the playoffs, with the most dynamic big man duo in the league. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins could dominate inside the paint and the glass each game. Health and shooting will be the Achilles heel of the Pelicans. If both Cousins and Davis stay healthy, they will create havoc for defenses. The Pelicans lack knock down shooting, in their projected starting lineup of Rondo-Holiday-Hill-Davis-Cousins, there is not a true outside threat to compete with the likes of Houston, GSW, SA, or OKC. Expect New Orleans to fight for an 8th seed this season.
Projected Record: 33-49
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Signed Ben McLemore, Tyreke Evans, and traded for Ivan Rabb (Rookie) and Dillon Brooks (Rookie)
The Grizzlies have always been tough, led by Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr. Memphis actually surprised many last season by squeaking into the playoffs as a 7th seed. But with major roster changes, I do not see Memphis winning 40 or more games this season, there have also been constant trade rumors regarding Marc Gasol. Although Conley is one of the more consistent and solid point guards, it’s just not enough for the Grizzlies to make a splash this season.
Projected Record: 31-51
Key Offseason Moves/Signings: Drafting Dennis Smith Jr.
The Mavericks are going more towards a youth movement in these next few years, starting with this season. With Dirk re-signing, he brings the Hall of Fame, veteran presence to mentor the young guns on the team. Expect a few vintage Nowitzki games this season, while Dennis Smith Jr. shines and chases the Rookie of Year Award.
PROJECTED PLAYOFF SEEDING
- Golden State Warriors
- San Antonio Spurs
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Houston Rockets
- Minnesota Timberwolves
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Denver Nuggets
- Utah Jazz
Outside looking in – Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans
WESTERN CONFERENCE AWARDS
MVP: Kawhi Leonard (SAS)
DPOY: Kawhi Leonard (SAS)
Rookie of the Year: Dennis Smith Jr. (DAL)
Most Improved Player: Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams (LAC)
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau (MIN)
Written By: Daniel Malakismail