Here is how we see the Western Conference rankings from 1-15.
1. LA Clippers: The Kings of LA
This off-season left us with two of the best teams in the league in the same stadium. For decades, the Clippers have been the little brother to the Lakers and never really been the number one LA team.
Both teams have two big stars: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the Clippers and LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the Lakers. What differentiates them is their supporting cast. The Clippers made the playoffs without their two new stars and the Lakers only won 37 games before trading away three of their best young players.
The Clippers can win games while resting either (or both) of their stars during the season. Can the Lakers do the same? In my opinion, no.
2. Utah Jazz: NBA nerds championship favourites
The Jazz are the NBA nerds favourite pick to win the 2019/20 NBA Championship. They’re also my pick. They’ve maintained their winning core of Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert while improving greatly in their main weaknesses.
Since Gordon Hayward departed, this team has had the same playoff let downs: teams lock down on Mitchell, their only elite option and their lack of shooting gets exposed.
With the addition of Mike Conley, they now have someone else to take the reigns in the playoffs and defensive attention away from Mitchell. Oh! And unlike Ricky Rubio who he essentially replaced, he can shoot the ball.
Alongside that, their acquisition of Bojan Bogdanovic will give them one of the most dynamic, two-way frontcourts: Ingles and Bogdanovic as interchangeable forwards and Defensive Player of the Year Gobert behind them to make up for any mistakes.
The Utah Jazz, your 2019/20 NBA Champions (but second seed in the West first).
3. Denver Nuggets: Can they win every single home game?
This offseason the Nuggets did three things: pick up Paul Millsap’s third year team option, extend Jamal Murray as soon as they could and traded a (likely) late first-round draft pick for Jerami Grant.
But it’s not their offseason moves that’ll make them great. It’s the fact that they’ve proven they can win together and will have a great opportunity to prove it again, with a deeper playoff run.
This team will have the best home record in the entire league this season. Usually that’s a pretty safe bet, due to the altitude Denver always has a slight edge over travelling teams. But now, with the roster they have, they might never stop running.
Last season, off an opponents miss (and sometime a make) Jokic was able to fling the ball up the court to a leaking Murray or Harris. Easy, in-transition baskets. This happened with some quick bench players in Monte Morris and Malik Beasley too.
Now that they’ve added Jerami Grant and with Michael Porter Jr. coming back from his red shirt season, Jokic will have two more targets to look for leaking out.
But if they miss out on a transition opportunity, any mismatches they managed to find when running out will be targetted by Murray or Jokic once they get setup in the halfcourt. And instead of the older Millsap handing around the basket, it’ll be the bouncy Grant who can leap for almost any alley-oop as seen in previous years.
Also, did I mention Grant shot 39 percent from three on nearly four attempts last season? He won’t be getting worse looks from three next to Jokic.
4. LA Lakers: How many games do LeBron and AD play this season?
It’s great that the Lakers now have two stars but LeBron is entering his age 35 season and Anthony Davis has always been an injury concern. At full strength, it’s completely reasonable to think that this team is the best team in the NBA.
But if you could bet on how many games these two play all season, would you say they’re both over 60?
Maybe they won’t be over 60 but it’ll be because of rest (or ‘load management’ is the hot new term). If they can enter the playoffs with a LeBron hoping to win one more as the lead guy and AD reaching his MVP potential, you might have another Laker championship.
So, I’ve put them at fourth because, while their ceiling is high, they aren’t going to care too much about the regular season. What does home court advantage matter when you play in the same stadium as your likely rival?
5. Houston Rockets: Out with the old, in with the somewhat young
This team essentially swapped CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Did they make way for a legitimate title shot or are they just shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic?
Westbrook (10th) and Harden (1st) were both in the top-ten in usage percentage this last season. They’re going to have to say goodbye to an all-you-can-eat buffet of shots next season or will they?
Can they co-exist as two ball-dominant players who want to dribble for 20 seconds? Last season James Harden took 943 pull-up jump shots from three and only took 70 catch-and-shoot threes.
For just about every 13 off-the-dribble threes he took, he took one off a catch per NBA.com (open mouth emoji).
And that was playing alongside one of the best passing guards of this generation.
But that may be the argument for why Russ fits in here. He’s a similar player to Harden in how he can dribble for 20 seconds before taking a shot. But previously he has had to play in OKC where the only other above-average shooter next to him was Paul George.
Russ will now be in Houston with Eric Gordon (36 3pt%), P.J. Tucker (38 3pt%), bigger lob threats in Clint Capela and Kenneth Faried and whichever shooters they can find on the scrapheap. That could be the argument for a resurgent Westbrook season, an efficient one and a winning one.
Will Russ and Harden provide the Rockets with 48 minutes of consistent elite scoring?|
6. Portland Trail Blazers: Surely Dame has an MVP season soon and pulls Portland out of the Wests’ middle?
The heading is pretty much it. We know what this team is, we’ve seen it for the last four seasons. Can Damian Lillard pull this team out of their treadmill and take them to the Finals?
In my opinion, no.
Can they go ballistic and can Lillard win MVP, sure.
They’re a good team, they’ve drafted well, they traded for Whiteside (aka Nurkic injury insurance) and will be a playoff team again. But they won’t make the upper echelon of the stacked Western Conference.
Famous last words.
7. Sacramento Kings: No longer the laughing stock
No, I didn’t spell ‘Golden State’ incorrectly. The Kings are ahead of them in my eyes. They’re deeper, they’re younger and they signed Luke Walton as head coach well before the playoffs started. It might’ve been one of the best free agency moves if it happened a few months later.
They we’re the ninth seed last season and two teams (Spurs and Thunder) look like they’ll be out of the race next season. The Lakers will take one of those spots and the other, the Kings.
This young team was fifth in pace last season and with Luke Walton likely adding a bit more flair to their offence, the Kings might be coming into their own.
They resigned Harrison Barnes (don’t trust a guy named Harrison who isn’t called Harry), picked up Cory Joseph (who hopefully won’t be as bad as last season), Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon. This team is officially deep with young starters ready to burst onto the scene.
8. Golden State Warriors:
I wrote last week about what next season might look like for the Golden State Warriors. I likened the Steph Curry/ D’Angelo Russell combination to Eric Bledsoe/ Goran Dragic in Phoenix but with two of Dragic.
Since then, Bob Meyers said that he “didn’t acquire [D’Angleo] Russell to flip him” which throws out and Kevin Knox or Robert Covington dreams I might’ve had.
Another thing I mentioned in that piece was how thin they are and how they’ll look if one of their main guys gets injured. If Steph or Draymond goes down for a few weeks it’s hard to see them winning too many games and they could seriously drop down the standings.
While eighth now, with their elite top-end skill you could see them getting as high as a top-four seed. But injury concerns could see them out of the playoffs and I didn’t even mention a Klay return and we don’t know how he’ll look.
9. San Antonio Spurs: The twilight of Pop’s career
So many weird variables here. They had Kawhi Leonard on their roster and traded him for Demar Derozan, Jacob Poetl and a late-first rounder. Compare that to the hauls New Orleans got for AD or OKC for Paul George.
Maybe it’s a bit unfair, he barely played the season prior. But the two-time DPoY and Finals MVP didn’t look like he was completely done for, still worth much more than the team got for him.
“I think this trade is going to work out great for both teams,” said Greg Popovich of the trade. “We wish [Leonard] well, but at this point it’s time to move on. It’s time to move on.”
A year on and that quote hasn’t really aged well. The Raptors won the championship and the Spurs lost in the first round.
Maybe now isn’t their championship window. After how Lonnie Walker IV played in Summer League, Derrick White blew up against Denver and Dejounte Murray looked before going down for the season they should target the future, something they haven’t done since tanking for Tim Duncan all those years ago.
Marcus Morris must’ve just realised this as he pulled out of his contract to sign with the Knicks.
But no, they probably won’t embrace a full tear-down or youth movement while Pop is the coach. They’ll try for the playoffs but just miss in a stacked West.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves: The KAT clock is ticking
Karl-Anthony Towns signed a five year/ max extension that kicks in at the beginning of next season. They’re now on the clock to surround him with a winning team and convince him that this is the place he should be.
If this free agency and all the superstars changing teams is anything to go off, they have to start worrying now.
I wrote last week on the enigma that is Andrew Wiggins and what I believe he can do to live up to number one overall pick hype. Imagine if he was at the same level of KAT, another number one overall pick.
On The Lowe Post this week Zach Lowe spoke with head coach of the Timberwolves Ryan Saunders and he had nothing but praise for Wiggins heading into next season. But, he understands the pressure on his shoulders this season “I think he hears what people say about (him) as well. He understands this is a big year for him,” Saunders said.
They have a few more seasons to build around KAT and trading up for the Jarrett Culver pick is the right move to do, trust your scouts and go get premium talent in the draft.
Let’s regroup in two years when they haven’t made the playoffs, do we hear grumbling coming from KAT’s camp?
11. New Orleans Pelicans: House of Highlights official basketball team
When Zion was coming up through the ranks it felt like he was already a household name. Then in Duke every time he breathed it felt like highlight sites and YouTube channels were telling us about it. Now, it’s finally here, he can explode onto the league on a young team build around him.
If you were to rank these teams by league pass watchability, I can guarantee you they’d be above 11th in everybody’s list.
But it’s not. Only wins and losses count.
After a big Summer League showing by Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who was robbed of LVSL MVP but that’s another conversation, the bouncy Jaxson Hayes paired with all the Lakers young players and veterans in Jrue Holiday, JJ Reddick and Derrick Favors, you’ve got yourself a team with potential to grow and win games in the present.
There’s always the possibility of trading their veterans for future assets as well.
This is another one of those teams that ‘if they were in the East, wow!’ Even though they aren’t and they’ll have a lot of growing to do and no pressure to compete right now. Now that there are no expectations, let’s enjoy.
12. Dallas Mavericks: Dirk x Nash 2.0
All that cap space this past offseason and they signed Seth Curry, Maxi Kleber and Delon Wright. What a haul.
It might’ve been a blessing in disguise that they kept the ink dry for this season. Doncic is 20 years old and legally can’t drink in the city he plays and Porzingis is only 23 years old and just recently on his second contract.
Come back in five (years) and this team may look completely different around Doncic and Prozingis. If they had signed Al Horford this season it would add pressure, money on their books and less flexibility around the young duo of the future.
13. Keeping CP3?
After the Clippers nabbed Paul George off OKC for a godfather offer which lead to Westbrooks departure and Grant going to Denver, the OKC Thunder now have 12 future draft picks that aren’t there own.
With this, they are kinda forced into rebuilding. If they couldn’t win with two stars on their team, they’re going to be hopeless with no stars.
However, they’re paying their role players (and remnants of the Westbrook era) way too much money to get easily moved. There’s no benefit to attaching some of their draft assets to these contracts to get off them, so they may as well wait until the Steven Adams, Dennis Schroeders and Andre Robersons are off their books.
That’s two years for most of their big deals. Until then, are they sneaky good?
Chris Paul, if healthy is still a good point guard, he just wasn’t good enough to beat the Warriors. Danillo Gallinari had a resurgent season and stayed healthy for the first time in a long time. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the modern day Shaun Livingston and exciting off the bench and the aforementioned role players can at least play their role.
What does this team look like? In me putting them at 13, am I serverly underrating what they can be? I don’t see them moving off any of these players soon, maybe they fight for the eighth seed? Maybe they trade some draft assets for Bradley Beal and really make a run?
Probably not, they’re the 13th best team in the West.
14. Memphis: Bright future Grizzlies
The Ringer NBA Show’s ‘The Mismatch’ with Chris Vernon and Kevin O’Connor always talk about the rebuilding teams like it’s a fetish of theirs to rebuild their teams. For some strange reason they labelled the Phoenix Suns the ‘Bright future Suns’.
After this offseason; Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, a LVSL title, LVSL MVP they changed that name to the ‘Bright future Grizzlies’.
That doesn’t say much about their current season however. Similar to the Dallas section, come back in five years.
15. Phoenix Suns: The not-Bright future Suns
Right now, they’re not even a come back in five years. But also, don’t stay here. I am not a fan of this team at all.
They spent all of last season in desperate need of a point guard as apart from Devin Booker, they couldn’t get any offence going at all. So, they went out and got one! Not through the draft, not a young one, but Ricky Rubio! A player entering his age 29 season who can’t shoot do anything when the ball isn’t in his hands.
Their number one overall pick DeAndre Ayton disappointed (I bet you forgot he existed) and their collection of wings disappeared this offseason (TJ Warren to Indiana and Josh Jackson to Memphis).
I don’t know what to say. Here’s a link to their roster. I guess they’ve got some of the coolest logos, jerseys and court designs in the league?