2019-2020 NBA Western Conference Preview

With tonight’s tip-off of the most highly anticipated NBA season in years, here is a preview and prediction of the Western Conference. Who makes the playoffs? Who just comes up short? And which team will enter the playoffs with the number one seed out West?

Spoiler: The top seed isn’t a California based team.

15. Memphis Grizzlies

For the first time since 2007, the Memphis Grizzlies will take the floor without Mike Conley Jr. It became quite clear the Grizzlies were heading towards a well needed rebuild after the core of the “Grit and Grind” era were traded and let go via free agency. They reluctantly dealt the anchor of their once dominant defense, Marc Gasol, to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors, and on draft night traded Mike Conley Jr. to the Utah Jazz. It was time to move on from the previous era and the front office believes there are brighter days ahead with a new core of Ja Morant, who they selected with the 2nd overall pick in the 2019 draft, and F/C Jaren Jackson Jr. Some nights Morant and Jackson Jr. will have just eye popping games, showing the league glimpses of just how good they can potentially be. But if we’re being realistic, the Grizzlies are in for a rough couple of seasons in the brutally competitive Western Conference while they wait on their young duo to develop.

The supporting cast is almost non existent, and then there is the whole Andre Iguodala situation looming over the team. The Grizzlies want him to mentor the young guys and eventually trade him, while Iggy wants a buyout so he can have full control over which contending team and situation he ends his career in. In the grand scheme of the season, it has no true barring over much but it is an unnecessary dark cloud over the team as the season starts.

14. Phoenix Suns

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After years of consistently good play under Mike D’Antonio, on the backs of Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, the Suns have been bottom feeders of the league. Running through six different Head Coaches since 2013 combining for a record of 186-347, the front office have set the team up for failure with the constant change in ideology, play style, and schemes. No team can be fundamentally sound, with a solid base, to build a winning culture if there is a different coach leading the way year in and year out. The Suns star player Devin Booker is entering his 5th season in the league and is on his 5th head coach. Despite the dynamic talent of Booker, the Suns have struggled to even improve with him on the team and a big reason for that is the constant change in power.

Looking on the bright side of things, it seems that the hire of head coach Monty Williams will be a good one considering his resume, and there is some building blocks on this roster. The aforementioned Booker is a walking bucket, and his Sophomore Center Deondre Ayton impressed in year one and should only get better. The Suns brought in Ricky Rubio, the first true point guard capable of running an NBA offense during the Devin Booker era, which should help get easy buckets for both Booker and Ayton. However a team coming off a 19 win season, whose biggest move of the offseason was brining in Ricky Rubio, will not be much improved in the stacked western conference.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves

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The Wolves are a frustrating team as a whole. Karl-Anthony Towns is among the best big-men in the NBA and yet the supporting cast put around him is abysmal. The front office have massively overpaid for marginal talent, and the development of Andrew Wiggins appears to be non-existent. If Wiggins had developed into what most people believe he could be with his frame and skillset, then we would be looking at a playoff team, but we’re not living in that parallel universe. As of now Wiggins is an overpaid player who has yet to reach his full potential and hasn’t made many strides to indicate he will.

As for the rest of the team, there are no players who strike fear into an opposing defense. Jeff Teague is past his prime, Robert Covington is the ideal player to pair with KAT since he is a 2-way player who can stretch the floor, Jarrett Culver is a rookie so who knows how his season will go, and the team has no true scoring threat to limit the double teaming of Towns down on the block.

I’m not even high on the coaching staff Minnesota puts together either. Head coach Ryan Saunders is just 33 years of age and still learning to be a head coach on the fly. The coaching staff does not have much experience either. David Vanterpool, Kevin Burleson and Pablo Prigioni are all former players but have very little coaching experience. I’m just trying to understand where Saunders, who grew up around the game as his late dad Flip Saunders was the former head coach of the Wolves, will look to for help when the times get tough in the trenches.

The Wolves will be competitive because the talent of Towns, but will see very little success in the win column this season.

12. New Orleans Pelicans

I initially had the Pelicans higher on my projections but the Zion Williamson Meniscus tear that will have him out 6-8 weeks change things. Once Zion gets back to the court, the Pelicans are set up to be must see tv every night. As for the team as a whole, it is basically the Lakers young core with Jrue Holiday, JJ Reddick and Derrick Favors. I expect a significant jump in production from Lonzo Ball now that he is out of the bright lights of Los Angeles. He and Holiday might be the best defensive backcourt int eh entire NBA. They will bring the clamps on opposing ball handlers, as well as make plays on the offensive side of the ball making it easy on their wing players to get buckets. The team has a nice mix of young and veterans, but the core of the team leans young so there will be inconsistencies along the way.

The highs will be high and the lows will be very low, and in the NBA’s western conference, inconstancies will kill your playoff chances. The Pels have set the foundation for future winning, but it will have to wait and watch their former franchise player Anthony Davis succeed before they do.

11. OKC Thunder

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The Thunder are in the middle of contention and rebuilding. Best case scenario the Thunder stay healthy and make the 8th seed out West. With aging roster and their lack of depth, I think the best case scenario is the most unlikely scenario.

The Thunder are a sprained ankle or hamstring to Chris Paul or Danilo Gallinari away from dropping out of contention fast. One injury can cause the Thunder to head into full rebuild mode, selling low on Steven Adams, Gallinari, and CP3 if they are lucky to find a team willing to absorb his $40 million contract. Watch the Thunder come the trade deadline, they can help out contending teams by flipping their aging vets for future draft picks.

10. Sacramento Kings

The Kings turned some heads last year when they finished with 39 wins and in the 9th spot. I think they co ti ue to turn heads this season on the backs of their young core of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, who just secured the bag, and Marvin Bagley III. Fox trained with Team USA and was one of the few bright spots. I expect him to make another massive leap in his development this season and the Kings will grow with him.

There might be a transition period with Luke Walton coming in as the new head coach, but it should go well for the young Kings players. Walton showed he can manage and coach young players during his stint with the Lakers. In the stacked West I think the Kings are on the outside looking in, but they should be in contention all the way down the stretch.

09. Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks pulled off a trade nobody saw coming when they acquired Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. from the New York Knicks. When Porzingis was last seen healthy, he was developing into a really good player. Now with the Mavs, he and Luka Doncic can both be budding stars leading the way for a franchise dying to make it back to the playoffs after a few years of struggling. Doncic and Porzingis should be a dynamic duo in the pick and roll game, and combine for 50 points a night.

The supporting cast is decent as well with Hardaway Jr., Seth Curry, Courtney Lee spacing the floor, and everyones favorite 7’3″ Boban Marjonovic at center. The talent of Doncic and Porzingis should be enough to land them in the 9th seed and fighting for the 8th spot, they are the only team with a true duo the will miss the playoffs in the West, but their time will come soon.

Playoff Teams

08. San Antonio Spurs

Did you think I would leave a Gregg Popovich led Spurs team out of the playoffs? He and the Spurs franchise are the textbook example of consistent greatness in the NBA. But the success goes beyond the man himself, just take a look at the coaching staff he has to lean on which features Becky Hammon, who will eventually be the first female head coach in NBA history, oh and he added future Hall of Famer and the single greatest Spurs player of all time, Tim Duncan  to the coaching staff. I think just having him in the building, in practices (probably giving Aldridge the work in the post) will give this team new life.

As for the players, the Spurs have their two all star players in DeMar DeRozan and Lamarcus Aldridge entering their 2nd season together, and they get their starting point guard who missed the entire season last year, Dejounte Murray back from injury. Murray has the capability to be the best defensive guard in the league, and has Popovich’s blessing as seen in the 4-year $64 million dollar contract he gave Murray. A further look at the Spurs roster will show a veteran team who has been there done that before, mixed with some young guys looking to earn their stripes. Expect Pop to play to his players strengths and secure a playoff spot yet again.

07. Golden State Warriors

Before whatever is left of the Warriors fanbase jumps me, let me preface this by saying the Warriors will be a tough out come playoff time, and could even upset a team in the 1st round IF Steph Curry returns to his MVP form.

However I do think the regular season will be rocky at times as they adjust to all the drastic changes that were made. For one, Kevin Durant isn’t there to single handily win games for you. Klay Thompson who was once expected to only miss a few months of there season recovering from his ACL injury, is now expected to miss the entire season. With no Klay Thompson and no Durant, the once stacked Warriors team is now thinning out and reliant on Curry to carry the load. There is the experiment of infusing D’Angelo Russell into the system offense Steve Kerr runs. And let’s not forget the tall obstacle of replacing the veteran leadership and bench production of Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

Nonetheless I think the Warriors hit their stride come February and look lethal heading into the playoffs. Expect Steph Curry’s season to resemble his 2016 season as he does the heavy lifting, reminding everyone of his greatness as the guy in Golden State. In the tight western conference the difference between the 2nd seed and 7th seed will be just a few games, so if the Warriors hit their stride earlier, don’t be surprised if they slide closer to the top of the West and home court.

However the worst case scenario could be devastating for the former champions. If Curry goes down with an ankle injury the Warriors will fall out of the playoff picture entirely. Maybe the Russell experiment doesn’t workout and the Warriors have the worst defensive back court in the league. Maybe Draymond Green continues to decline. But out of respect to 2 future hall of fame players, and the winning culture in the Bay Area, I’ll give them the 7th spot with faith things will go as planned.

06. Portland Trailblazers

The Blazers are coming off a thrilling playoff run with plenty of big moments including the series clinching dagger that created multiple memes and broke up the OKC Thunder duo of PG13 and Russ before they ever got to accomplish anything. That playoff run came to an end in the Western Conference Finals where they were overmatched by the Warriors, but the playoff run itself will do good going forward for the franchise. Adding Hassan Whiteside doesn’t move the radar for me but I do expect the Blazers to flip his expiring contract and draft picks for Kevin Love. If they do bring in a Love or a player with the same skill set I think the Blazers are much improved, but I can’t predict their success on a transaction yet to be made.

As for the team in place, they have enough talent to sit comfortably in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture. I like their additions of Kent Bazemore and Pau Gasol, but they’re not needle movers in the grand scheme of things. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are arguably the best back court in the league and will have the Blazers comfortably in the playoff picture, but in the much improved Western Conference, I expect the overachievers from last season to fall back down to earth a little this season.

05. Houston Rockets

I’d be lying if I said I’m not down on the Houston Rockets. From a basketball standpoint, I still don’t see the duo of two ball centric guards successfully coexisting. Harden and Westbrook are among the league leaders of usage rate every year and both have demons come playoff time. For the regular season, wins will be easy to come by. Harden as the lone star is getting you a playoff spot, and the same with Westbrook, so the notion that they could struggle in the regular season is something I won’t entertain. I close games down the stretch I can see them having difficulties getting on the same page. The key to their success will be if Westbrook is able to accept the “Robin” role to Harden’s “Batman” after years of Westbrook being the guy.

I think the first month or so they’ll start out slow just because the adjustment of the two stars learning to play with each other after years apart, but the regular season isn’t something I’m worried about for the Rockets. But come April/May we will dissect them fully and see their masked flaws.

04. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers have the highest ceiling of any team in the NBA. At the very best case scenario, the Lakers win the NBA Championship with Lebron James and Anthony Davis being an unstoppable duo while Kyle Kuzma takes the leap to all star level player. Both LeBron James and Anthony Davis should get MVP votes if they run through the league like I expect them to. But things never go as planned and there will be some bumps in the road for this Lakers team.

One concern is injuries. Anthony Davis has yet to prove he can withstand the course of an NBA season without missing time due to some type of injury. So book him to miss maybe 10 games, even if some are to just rest. For James, he is in his 17th season with a lot of milage on his body. For the first time ever his body broke down last year. It could be a fluke or it can be father time starting to game some ground on a battle he never loses. Frank Vogel and James will work out built in games off so James has that extra gear to turn to come playoff time.

The issue the Lakers will run into is the games where James and/or Davis miss. The team is not ultra deep and is heavily reliant on their stars to produce. It will hurt their chances at securing the best record in the West, but best record is not something high on the Lakers priority list anyway. Book the Lakers for 49-54 wins and home court in the first round of the playoffs.

03. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers, much like their landlord Lakers, are heavy title favorites. The Clippers are coming off their best offseason in franchise history by adding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to an already impressive core of players. The Clippers continuity, particularly the bench unit led by Lou Williams and Montrez Harrell basically carried the Clippers to the 8th seed and a competitive series against the Warriors in round one a year ago, will be a key to this teams success. So why won’t the returning vote of the team plus the two best two-way players in the league be the top seed you ask?

Well for starts Paul George will miss at least the first 10 games of the season recovering from his shoulder surgery. Once he gets back into the fold, Doc Rivers will have to work him back slowly, without interrupting the chemistry they have built without him.

Then there is Kawhi Leonard. I don’t expect him to run out there 82 games this season after seeing how well his “load management” worked for him a year ago. It won’t be as excessive as it was with him in Toronto because the West is very competitive, but I can see him sitting 10 games throughout the year.

We also need to see how the Clippers who had a bigger role a year ago, adjust to having two ball dominate stars running the show. There will be an adjustment period for sure, but their talent and the coaching of Doc Rivers will have the Clippers near the top of the West and set up for a deep playoff run.

02. Utah Jazz

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The Utah Jazz will be this years Denver Nuggets. I don’t think people understand how good, deep and cohesive the Utah Jazz team is. The core of Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Joe Ingles remain in tact, but the offseason additions of Mike Conley Jr. and Bojan Bogdanovic is what takes the Jazz to the next level this season.

The Jazz lacked a scoring player maker alongside Mitchell, and Conley Jr. fills that vacancy. Conley Jr. is a massive upgrade over the one dimensional Ricky Rubio, and gets after it on the defensive end. The addition of Bogdanovic is sneaky good. His floor spacing, knock down shooting, and ability to catch fire will help a Jazz offense that was stagnant for long stretches of times in years past. Head Coach Quin Snyder is a top 5 coach in the entire league, leading the way for his defensive minded team. I think the Jazz will want and need home court in the playoffs so the eagerness to get the top seed is something they’ll focus on. What they do in the playoffs is still up in the air.

01. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets caught many off guard last season when they raised to the top of the West, finishing as the 2nd seed. Nikola Jokic became a household name, and Jamal Murray took a huge step in his development. Brining back the same core of players from a year ago will allow them to be one of the few cohesive units left in tact from a year ago, so there will be no adjustment period. The infusion of Michael Porter Jr. could be massive. Porter Jr. was once expected to be the number one pick, but fell due to back injuries. After falling to the Nuggets in the 2018 draft, and sitting out all of last season, Porter Jr. looks to be healthy and ready to go. The home court Denver has in the regular season is real. Visiting teams get ran out of the gym and gassed when in Denver, especially on the second of back to backs.

Not sure what the playoffs hold for the Nuggets, but the regular season should be a breeze for this talented cohesive unit who desperately wants home court advantage throughout the playoffs.


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