The West is as wild as it’s ever been. You could maybe fill out two all-star teams with the amount of talent there is. Of course the clear favorite is Golden State, but teams such as Houston, San Antonio, OKC and Los Angeles.. Yes, Los Angeles could all possibly challenge them on their path to the 3-peat. Let’s cut the chit-chat and dive into this.
Houston Rockets (Previous Season 65-17)
Houston were a hamstring away from making the NBA finals and possibly winning the championship. They also had one of the worst, if not the worst, shooting night as a team at the worst possible time. Despite all of that Houston are still the second or third best team in the NBA. They have League MVP James Harden and “Point-God” Chris Paul taking turns terrorizing teams and Clint Capela rim running and blocking shots. They did lose a major piece in Trevor Ariza, who was the perfect fit for his “3 & D” roles, but they will try to replace his offense with Carmelo Anthony and his defense with F James Ennis. They may take a step back in the wins column because they played out their minds all season, and Mike D’Antoni will need to incorporate Carmelo into the offense more. I believe their window to win a championship with this group ended as soon as Chris Paul injured his hamstring. The Rockets have some bouncing back to do for H-Town.
Final Prediction: 2nd seed (58-24), Second Round/Conference Finals Exit.
Golden State Warriors (Previous Season 58-24)
They added Boogie, there isn’t much for me to say. The 3-Peat is coming.
Final Prediction: 1st seed (68-14), N 2019 NBA Finals Champions
Portland Trailblazers (Previous Season 49-33)
Last postseason was an absolute disappointment for Portland.They got swept by New Orleans in the first round and it was not pretty at all. All-Star PG Damian Lillard and G CJ McCollum were spectacular throughout the regular season once again, averaging a combined 48.3ppg. C Jusuf Nurkic also chipped in 14 ppg. But Portland’s biggest problem since Lamarcus Aldridge departed has been both Forwards spots. They haven’t been able to find that 3rd consistent scorer or ball handler. On the current roster, Evan Turner is probably their third best shot creator, and for them to make a push in the Western Conference, it is a must for them to make an upgrade. Even though he may be a defensive liability, Jamal Crawford is the probably the best available free agent and we all know what he is capable of offensively. If the Blazers can upgrade their wing position, then they can really be considered a real threat in the West.
Final Prediction: 8th Seed (47-35), First Round Exit.
Oklahoma City Thunder (Previous Season 48-34)
Last year around this time, everyone though OKC would be locked in for at least a second round appearance. Some even thought they would challenge Cleveland in the NBA Finals. They were very wrong. The Carmelo Experiment failed miserably. As a whole, OKC were disappointing, but at certain times they looked like one of the very elite teams in the league. With Carmelo gone now, Paul George will have the ball a bit more. We know what Russell means for that team, but for them to take the next step I think that PG should have the ball a little more. If Russ can come off pin downs near the elbows and use him on some Iverson cuts up top with PG handling, it can create some more motion and give Russ other ways of scoring besides Pick & Roll and Isolation. It could save energy for both of them and create some more efficient offense. OKC also picked up Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel this off-season. Dennis will be huge for them, helping to take some ball handling duties from PG and Russ. Schroder averaged 19ppg and 6ast last season in Atlanta so he’s more than capable of creating his own shot and creating for others. Nerlens Noel will also be very valuable in the Pick & Roll game as a lob catcher and defensively he’s athletic enough to switch on guards and protect the rim.
Final Prediction: 7th Seed (49-33), First Round Exit.
Utah Jazz (Previous Season 48-34)
The Utah Jazz were very impressive after a very slow start last season. They were only 17-25 through the first half of the season. Through the second they finished the year 31-9 and rode that momentum all the way to the second round of the playoffs. A large part of their success was due to Rookie Donovan Mitchell’s play. He averaged 20.1 points and nearly 4 assists per game. He had a usage rate of 29.1% in the regular season, but that number jumped to 31.5% in the playoffs which ranked 5th. He ranked only behind Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron, and John Wall. Rookies don’t do those type of things. Utah also have DPOY Rudy Gobert and the second highest amount of defensive win shares. The Jazz win games by defense, staying in front of guys on the perimeter and also being comfortable if they got beat knowing they have Gobert protecting the rim. They had 4 players in the top 20 in defensive win shares and they also had the second lowest opponent points per game. They also had the lowest opponent FG%. They really suffocate teams all game and are very well coached and disciplined. If Utah can stay healthy, they can scare some teams at the top of the conference.
Final Prediction: 3rd Seed (55-27)
New Orleans Pelicans (Previous Season 48-34)
The New Orleans Pelicans are going to be very dangerous this season. Despite Demarcus Cousins’ leaving for Golden State, the Pelicans made some pick ups this off-season to try to fill his role. They signed C Jahlil Okafor and F Julius Randle who can both be complementary and effective playing next to Anthony Davis. Jahlil can handle the ball some and also has a great footwork in the post. Julius Randle on the other hand is a pure bully. He can lockup on defense, grab the rebound, run the fast-break and pass or score it. He can play the 4 or small ball 5 whenever AD isn’t on the court. But this team is going to rely on Anthony Davis. Davis finished 3rd in both MVP and DPOY award voting. He simply just does things that nobody else in the NBA is capable of doing. Guarding 1-5, shooting the 3, knocking down mid-range, efficient in the post, catching lobs, basically the guy does everything. In today’s modern NBA or even 20-30 years ago, AD is the ultimate weapon any team can have. G Jrue Holiday will also have more opportunities to handle the ball now that Rajon Rondo is gone. Jrue is one of the most underrated guards in the NBA. He is capable of guarding 1-3 (he guarded Kevin Durant last year in the playoffs some), he has an underrated bag and can get buckets, and he can create for his teammates. New Orleans still needs to address their depth at the wing to make some real noise though.
Final Prediction: 10th seed (42-40), Lottery.
San Antonio Spurs (Previous Season 47-35)
The Kawhi Saga is over. The Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili saga is over. Coach Pop has some new faces to get used to. San Antonio added G Demar Derozan in a trade that sent Kawhi away. The Spurs managed to win 47 games without their best player. I had them projected to win 54 or more games this season, but the injury to G Dejounte Murray will be big for them. They still have guys to plug-in at the PG spot like Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes, and Derrick White. San Antonio will miss Murray’s defensive versatility the most. Murray is 6’6 and can switch 1-3, he also made All-Defensive 2nd team last season in only his second year. The “Big 3” of Lamarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, and Demar Derozan will be exciting to watch. We will see if Pop can make Demar an even more efficient scorer and hopefully make defense a priority for him as well.
Final Prediction: 6th seed (50-32), First Round Exit.
Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous Season 47-35)
The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a very interesting few weeks leading up to opening night. First Jimmy Butler requested a trade, Andrew Wiggins and his brother had some things to say about it on social media, even Stephen Jackson had some words for Wiggins. After that, Jimmy Butler showed up to practice and dominated everyone from the GM, Coach Thibs, and his teammates, and told Rachel Nichols all about in a ESPN interview. The Wolves didn’t change much personnel wise, but the chemistry will never be the same. The only way for Minnesota to get better from this is to trade Butler as soon as they can and try to get equal value for him. Karl Anthony Towns is still as dominant as they come offensively and Andrew Wiggins is one of the best athletes in the NBA, but like Butler stated, they just have to play a little harder to make things easier for them and the others around them. Minnesota still has a chance to be a great team, just not this season.
Final Prediction: 9th seed (45-37), Lottery.
Denver Nuggets (Previous Season 46-36)
The Nuggets missed the playoffs last year by one game. If Paul Millsap missed over half of the season, they could’ve easily been a 6th seed. Denver is poised to make a big jump in the standings this year. They drafted F Michael Porter and signed G Isaiah Thomas as well. Even though both players will not be available at the start of the season, whenever on or both come back, they’ll add instant offense to a team who finished 5th in Total PPG last season. Nikola Jokic will be an All-Star this year too. He averaged 17-10-6 last season, so I expect him to be around 21-11-6 this year. He’s probably the best passer for guys his size and his post game is very polished. Jokic can also knock down 3s off of pick and pop or kick out catch and shoot or transition pull ups. Jamal Murray will also be a monster this season. He’s averaged 9.9ppg in his rookie season and 16.7 last year so expect his production to increase as well. He is a tireless defender and can light it up with range offensively. G Gary Harris will have a very good season too. He doesn’t get the media attention like the others but he can put up some buckets quick too. If they can improve defensively, Denver will be a scary team to see in the playoffs.
Final Prediction: 5th seed (52-30), First Round Exit.
Los Angeles Clippers (Previous Season 42-40)
The Clippers are probably the most average team in the West. They have a roster of good players but no stars. Their best player is 6th man of the Year Lou Williams, who’s fantastic offensively but is undersized on defense. In the West, that’s just not going to get them far. They have some very solid players in Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, and Patrick Beverley. They won’t “wow” you with anything spectacular but play their role very well. They drafted G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out of Kentucky in the lottery. A lot of people were impressed with his defensive potential and length. But for Shai to be elite in the pros, he needs to improve his shot. The Clippers are also always a threat to sign a big name free agent so keep an eye out in the 2019 Free Agency period.
Final Prediction: 11th seed (38-44), Lottery
Los Angeles Lakers (Previous Season 35-47)
The Lakers are going to be the most watched and talked about team this season. LeBron James will be LeBron James as usual but it’s up to Kuzma, Lonzo, Ingram, and Hart to make an improvement, and it seems like they have. The Lakers also signed Rajon Rondo, Javale McGee, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley. LA finished second in the NBA in fast break points and second in Pace. The narrative that the Lakers don’t have shooters is also false. Guys like Kyle Kuzma Ingram, KCP, Hart, LeBron, and even rookie Svi Mykhailiuk will knock down shots for them. Their roster is full of guys that can do multiple things when they get the ball. They tried to put versatile guys around LeBron (opposite of Cleveland) so that he can play more off the ball and conserve energy. At times they’ll have a lineup where all 5 guys run the P&R and make a play. But even with all those ball handlers, when crunch time arrives the ball will be in LeBron’s hands. The Lakers’ young core and even the veterans will learn how to prepare and learn from the game now that LeBron and Rondo are in the locker room. Players like that can boost the whole team’s IQ and that can be scary on a night when everyone is clicking and making plays for one another. In conclusion, we’ve seen what LeBron was able to do with an inferior roster in Cleveland, this year is a new challenge for him and he’s probably the most excited he’s ever been in LA. He can do some damage in the postseason with this young and hungry squad.
Final Prediction: 4th seed (54-28), Second Round Exit.
Sacramento Kings (Previous Season 27-55)
The Sacramento Kings will be an interesting team to watch this year. They have two rookie big men in Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles (technically a rookie, made his career debut last night). They also have lightning fast PG De’Aaron Fox who will be the catalyst. This summer he worked tirelessly to improve his jump shot and it showed in the preseason, we’ll just have to see if it translates to the regular season. Buddy Heild will also be a player to watch. He’s been known as a knockdown shooter but if he can improve his playmaking and perimeter defense, then that can unlock even more for the Kings. F Bogdan Bogdanovic and F Justin Jackson will also be key for the Kings development. If Sacramento can keep these assets and they consistently development for the next couple of seasons, then they could be in contention to make some deep playoff runs just like they did in the early 2000s. The NBA needs some good basketball in Sac-Town.
Final Prediction: 14th seed (26-56), Lottery.
Dallas Mavericks (Previous Season 24-58)
The Dirk Nowitzki era is coming to a close very soon but the Mavericks have another European star on their roster. Luka Doncic. This year alone he was a EuroLeague Champion, EuroLeague MVP, and EuroLeague Final Four MVP. He’s not even a month older than I am, and I’m 19. He’s the most accomplished prospect to come into the NBA in a really long time, especially at his age. Dallas will rely on his talents for years to come. Dallas also has an uber-athletic PG in Dennis Smith Jr. The tandem of Luka and Dennis will be electric all season long. Dallas finally were able to get their hands on Deandre Jordan, and actually keeping him this time. He’ll be an elite rebounder and rim protector. Rookie G Jalen Brunson who led Villanova to the National Championship and won all of the Player of the Year awards. He’ll bring a punch off of the bench and good PG play. Don’t expect Dallas to make the playoffs, but they will be a very interesting team to watch this year.
Final Prediction: 13th seed (30-52), Lottery.
Memphis Grizzlies (Previous Season 22-60)
The Memphis Grizzlies have gone from a legit championship contender to bottom of the barrel in only a couple quick years. I honestly don’t know what the Grizzlies plans are. Marc Gasol is getting older, Mike Conley is getting older, and they clearly want to build around rookie C/F Jaren Jackson Jr. If I were in the front office, I’d try to trade either Gasol or Conley while they are still productive players and have some trade value. Both Gasol can help out teams with playoff contention, so why not give them a chance to win a championship as they enter the last stage of their careers.
Final Prediction: 15th seed (20-62)
Phoenix Suns (Previous Season 21-61)
Phoenix Suns basketball is back! In their season debut they defeated the Dallas Mavericks but the story of that game was the dominance of Devin Booker. Booker went for 35, but 19 of that came in the fourth quarter. Deandre Ayton contributed 18-10-6. If Phoenix can keep those two for the next decade, the NBA will be in trouble. By the way, this is Devin Booker’s fourth season and he’s only 21. Phoenix also have some great talent outside of those two. F Josh Jackson is a dog. He wants to block every shot and lockdown any one on every possession. That aggressiveness is starting to show offensively, he’s improved his shot and he finishes in the paint better. TJ Warren is a walking bucket and he’s shooting threes now. I’ve always been high on Warren since he was in college and this season he’ll show how good he really is. They also traded for Mikal Bridges in the draft and he fits their roster perfectly. He will be a great 3-D guy as he starts to play more. They also managed to sign Trevor Ariza this off-season. Ariza was very important to Houston’s success, as he perfected the 3-D role for them last season. He is still a very productive player but his biggest impact will be showing the young Suns how to win. Phoenix recently signed G Jamal Crawford as well. He will be a big spark off of the bench and will help relieve Booker of some of the ball-handling duties. The Suns do lack a solid and reliable PG, and they still could possibly trade for one. Be on the lookout for Phoenix this season, they’re coming.
Final Prediction: 12th seed (31-52), Lottery