NBA Western Conference Preview

Posted: 10/30/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

Now it’s time for the Western Conference preview. As you might have noticed, the Eastern Conference is inferior to the West, as it has been in recent years. I predicted that the East would end up with 78 more losses than wins, which means there will be a lot of good teams in the West.

1. San Antonio Spurs (60-22): Everyone always doubts the Spurs. “They’re too old,” they say. “This is the year they collapse.” Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and I won’t predict it until it does happen. They still have Duncan, they still have Parker, and they still have Ginobili, although Manu looks like he is deteriorating. They might actually be better this year because of their emerging role players. At this time last year, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green were question marks, and Marco Belinelli was on the Chicago Bulls. Now Leonard is an emerging star, Splitter is a solid average starting center, Green is one of the best three point shooters in the NBA, and Belinelli is an important backup who made huge shots for the Bulls last year in the playoffs. Every contending team needs a Marco Belinelli.

2. Los Angeles Clippers (58-24): The Clippers surprisingly lost to the team that shares their arena yesterday, but I don’t think we should be worrying about them. Their assets are clearly in place. They have the best point guard in the NBA (until Derrick Rose proves otherwise) in Chris Paul, they have a skilled power forward and double-double waiting to happen in Blake Griffin, and they have successfully surrounded the two with shooting, toughness, and athleticism. They have upgraded at the starting shooting guard and small forward position, with accomplished shooters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley joining the team, without downgrading their amazing bench at all. They still have explosiveness (Jamal Crawford), toughness and defense (Matt Barnes), and ball handling (Darren Collison) coming off the bench. They lack depth when it comes to the frontcourt, but that’s the only issue right now.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder (56-26): The Thunder’s over/under for wins posted by Vegas is at 51.5. Which is ludicrous. Even if Russell Westbrook is not back until Christmas (which he will be), don’t you think Kevin Durant, a true superstar, is a good enough player to carry this team to 52 wins? They did win 60 games last year. I wouldn’t bet against them.

4. Golden State Warriors (54-28): The Warriors are the classic team that people call sleepers but are really quite obvious contenders. Stephen Curry is not only the most exciting player in the NBA, he is also one of the best. The Warriors are the same team as the young one that won 47 games last year, with a few exceptions. They are one year older, which should be good. On the other hand, they lost key bench pieces Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. Both of those guys were huge locker room presences but also saved the Warriors multiple times in the playoffs. Back to the positive side, the Warriors signed Andre Iguodala, who is a great fit. Iggy can take pressure off of Curry by defending point guards and bringing the ball up the court. At times, he will be the de facto point guard with Curry moving off the ball, a scheme that worked in the playoffs. This is a very good team, with the only legitimate issue being Stephen Curry’s ankle.

5. Houston Rockets (53-29): The Rockets could well win more than 52 games, but I think they are going to start out slowly. If they want Dwight Howard and Omer Asik playing together, the Rockets are going to have to expect a grace period. I think the two can play together, but I think the better option would be trading Asik to a team like the Pelicans for a Ryan Anderson type player. That trade would work because Dwight Howard would be able to clog the paint while playing with another shooter (who he has already played with in Orlando). The Pelicans would do it because Anthony Davis would be able to move to his more natural power forward position with a true center playing next to him. The trade makes too much sense not to happen.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (52-30): This is where the cutoff is. There are six great teams in the West, and they won’t be separated by very many games. The Grizzlies are good, but they could be the two or three seed if they could somehow find a shot creator and shooter to play in the back court. Playing with Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince didn’t work in the playoffs last year, and I think it’s redundant and detrimental. The Grizzlies need to find some way to develop or trade for a creator, and then they can maybe, just maybe, make the finals.

7. Dallas Mavericks (46-36): I think the Mavericks are going to have a surprisingly good season, thanks to a monster season from Dirk Nowitzki. Dirk is going to score a lot of points, and they have some talented players around him, which is enough for me. Remember, this was a 41 team last year. They have a great coach, and a better team, so I think they’ll improve.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves (45-37): I really hope the T-Wolves can put it together. If they are good, and they could well be good, they will be so fun to watch, with Ricky Rubio making amazing passes and Kevin Love racking up double doubles. This is the best team Kevin Love has had around him, and I hope he will take advantage. One thing is for sure: They will be exciting offensively while flawed defensively. There will be a lot of 120-114 games. Hopefully they win them.

9. Portland Trail Blazers (42-40): I think that Portland will be in the playoff chase for a long time. Last year they were 33-36 until losing their last 13, and I think they have really improved their team by totally turning over their bench. Last year, their starters played way too many minutes, which is why they broke down at the end of the season. This year, with C.J. McCollum, Dorell Wright, Robin Lopez, Thomas Robinson, and Mo Williams all added to the team. That’s a nice mix of veterans and players filled with potential, and all five should make huge contributions while keeping the starters more in the 35 minute range than the 40 minute range they were in last year.

10. Denver Nuggets (41-41): The Nuggets are going to be disappointing this year. What is there to like? They lost their best all around player, Andre Iguodala. Their best shooter, Danilo Gallinari, is out for months. They also lost their only competent center of last season, Kosta Koufos. A lot of people are high on JaVale McGee, but I’m not one of them. How far will a team with Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried (make no mistake, Faried is good, but he should play 25-30 minutes per game, not the 35-40 that might be expected) go? My answer: Not very far.

11. New Orleans Pelicans (40-42): The Pelicans are gunning for the playoffs, but I think they’ll be disappointing. Their team might be a good fantasy team, but do you think Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Tyreke Evans, all players who need the ball, will work on one team? I certainly don’t. The only reason I see them nearly reaching .500 is that Anthony Davis is an absolute monster (a 20-10-3 blocks projection seems ambitious but really might not be).

12. Los Angeles Lakers (33-49): Yes, the Lakers beat the Clippers last night, but let’s not overreact. They got a lot of fluky performances out of their bench, and I think they’ll be putrid in general until Kobe comes back (it will likely be at least another month), at which point it will be too late.

13. Sacramento Kings (32-50): I think the Kings are going to make a slight improvement under new ownership, with DeMarcus Cousins breaking out and a lot of other talented players clicking (at least a little). They won’t win more than 35 games, though, in all likelihood.

14. Utah Jazz (27-55): The Jazz want to tank, but they might not be bad enough to tank. They have two talented big men in Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter as well as young guards Trey Burke and Alec Burks and the reliable Gordon Hayward. This looks more like a 30 win team than a 15 win team.

15. Phoenix Suns (15-67): They are really tanking. Sort of the West version of the Sixers with a few more talented players.

MVP Candidates: Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis
ROY Candidates: Trey Burke, Ben McLemore
Comeback POY Candidates: Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Andrew Bogut, Eric Bledsoe
DPOY Candidates: Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Kawhi Leonard, Andre Iguodala

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