DISCLAIMER: THIS WAS WRITTEN PRIOR TO OPENING NIGHT (SO INJURIES ARE NOT TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION)
This offseason was wild. We saw many players shift from the eastern conference to the west like Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul Millsap. With all of these changes, the playoff standings are sure to change as well. Here’s what I believe will happen, with a short explanation to go along with each team.
1. Golden State Warriors
What did you honestly expect? Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green all on the same team; That’s a first seed.
2. Houston Rockets
I can’t stand hearing people talking poorly about the Chris Paul, James Harden duo. I understand they each need the ball to be effective, but they are still two of the most unselfish players in the league. We could see some crazy ball movement this year in Houston.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
The only thing that puts the Rockets above the Thunder for me is their experience playing together. I think the Thunder could have some problems early on in the season trying to get their three stars acclimated while the Rockets take the league by storm. That being said, the Thunder probably still have more talent overall.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
Jimmy Butler is an NBA superstar, nothing less. Unfortunately, he isn’t James Harden or Russell Westbrook; He needs help. This season, he has the help. Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns are two of the biggest rising stars in the league, Jeff Teague was an all-star just two years ago, and Taj Gibson fits perfectly into any lineup with his defense and solid midrange shot.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
Here comes the controversy. In my opinion, the Clippers improved this offseason. Think about it; they lost Chris Paul and gained Patrick Beverley (the best defensive point guard in the NBA), Danilo Gallinari (who averaged 18 points per game last season), Lou Williams (who finished second in sixth man of the year voting last season), and Milos Teodosic (who has been one of the best Euroleague players over the past 10 years). When you put it like that, they sound pretty promising, don’t they?
6. San Antonio Spurs
No disrespect to Kawhi Leonard, but I don’t look at him the same I way I look at Lebron James, Kevin Durant, or James Harden. He doesn’t seem like the type of guy who can take a game into his hands and dominate on offense. Their other stars (Lamarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker) are all one year older and one year less athletic. That being said, they’re still coached by Gregg Popovich and will likely give their first-round matchup at least a little trouble.
7. New Orleans Pelicans
It’s crazy to me that people are even thinking there is a chance the Pelicans could miss the playoffs. I realize their bench could be the worst in the league and that there are only about four guys on their team that can score effectively, but two of those guys are top 20 if not top 10 NBA players. I don’t know if this has ever happened before, but I could honestly see Demarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis each average 30 points this season.
8. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers still have a top 5 backcourt in the NBA no questions asked; Their addition of Jusuf Nurkic at the trade deadline last season gave their offense some more diversity, And they still have a solid slew of guys that can play defense and/or shoot threes. They may not be fighting for an NBA championship anymore, but they’re still a lower tier playoff team.
9. Denver Nuggets
This was extremely tough for me to do considering my love for Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap, but I couldn’t find a way to slip the Nuggets into the playoffs. There isn’t too much for me to analyze; They’re just not as good as any of the top-8 teams. It’s unfortunate but true.
10. Los Angeles Lakers
I am a huge believer in Lonzo Ball. He seems like the perfect point guard to lead a young team to the promise land. Whether his dad is a distraction or not, he and the Lakers should at least be able to compete in the majority of their games.
11. Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert cannot lead a team to the playoffs in the western conference. I don’t care how good your defense is. If you can’t score the ball, you will not win NBA games.
12. Memphis Grizzlies
It’s time for the Grizzlies to move on from the “Grit and Grind” era, and I think they’re starting to realize that themselves letting Zach Randolph walk in free agency. One of my boldest predictions for this season is that we’ll see Marc Gasol be traded at the deadline. I just don’t think the Grizzlies have the youth or depth to keep their historic run going.
13. Dallas Mavericks
Dennis Smith Jr. may have been the steal of the NBA draft, Harrison Barnes is a solid starter, and Dirk Nowitzki can still shoot, but the Mavericks lack excitement almost everywhere else. The Mavericks are going to struggle and I think everyone (including Mark Cuban) knows that.
14. Phoenix Suns
With Eric Bledsoe supposedly on the trade block, the Phoenix Suns are officially in full rebuild mode. They have Devin Booker and Josh Jackson who they hope will be the one-two punch of the future in Phoenix. In terms of this season though, look out for a rough season.
15. Sacramento Kings
Do I really think the Kings are the worst team in the western conference? No. As a Kings fan, I know they won’t be a playoff team this season and honestly hope for as bad as a record as possible, while still being competitive in most games. I like the mixture of veterans and young guys and am hoping for a successful future in Sacramento.