Apr 5, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) is defended by Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry (30) during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
The Western Conference is ridiculously loaded. When I say “ridiculously”, I mean it in the most positive way. Last season the Oklahoma City Thunder missed the playoffs because of a tiebreaker against New Orleans. Yes, the Thunder! The team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Yes, both players missed a good chunk of the season, but they are still loaded with elite level talent.
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This season the Thunder will comfortably get in and so will teams like the Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, and Rockets. I haven’t even mentioned the Memphis Grizzlies and the young New Orleans Pelicans that competed with the champs in the first round. It appears that the Western Conference might have those seven teams as locks. Teams like Utah, Dallas, and Phoenix will fight for that lost spot. The Lakers and Kings have talent, but unless everything goes well they won’t make the postseason.
The Western Conference might have seven teams that win 50-plus games. It wouldn’t surprise me if the 8-10 seeds in the West finish with around 40 wins as the top-7 seeds will win many games. Last year the Thunder and Pelicans won 45 games apiece and it was barely enough for one team to get in. Had they been in the East both teams would’ve been good enough to finish in sixth place comfortably. The Milwaukee Bucks finished 6th place in the East with only 41 wins. That’s right a .500 team was easily in the playoffs. It was worse in 2013-14 when Atlanta made the playoffs with 38 wins.
Next: 1. Golden State Warriors
Jun 16, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guardKlay Thompson
(11), guardStephen Curry
(30) and Golden State Warriors forwardDraymond Green
(23) celebrates with the Larry O
1) Golden State Warriors
The best team in the NBA of last season will once again be the no. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Warriors won 67 games last season, winning 39 of 41 at home. No typo there! The Warriors are built to win regular season games. They are young, fast, and versatile.
This doesn’t mean the Warriors will be the favorites to go the NBA Finals. There’s a chance they can lose as early as the second round, even as a top seed. The Warriors won’t win 67 games like last season with the improvements of many top teams in the conference, but they should win around 60 games.
Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are not only the best shooting duo in the league, but they form the best backcourt in the league. Draymond Green is one of the best all-around players in the league. Green impacts the game without having to go for 20 points like most talented players. Andre Igoudala and Harrison Barnes are interchangeable at small forward and they give the Warriors a different look. Andrew Bogut is always hurt it seems, but he is a high level defender and a good passing big.
The concern for the Warriors is their bench. After Shaun Livingston and Igoudala there aren’t many reliable players. Marreese Speights either makes five straight shots or misses five straight it seems. Jason Thompson is a terrific pickup for the Warriors. He averaged 6.1 points and 6.5 rebounds last season. Rookie Kevon Looney won’t play much next season, but he has the tools to be a steal in this years draft.
Next: 2. Oklahoma City
Feb 9, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and forward Kevin Durant (35) during the game against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
2) Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s arguable the Oklahoma City Thunder have the most talent in the league. They have the best duo in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (see above). Everyone knows that 4-time Scoring Champion Durant is elite. Durant won the MVP Award in 2014.
What many didn’t know is that his teammate Westbrook is a superstar. Westbrook put up video game numbers in the second half of last season. He averaged 28.1 points, 8.6 assists, and 7.3 rebounds last year. All of a sudden many think he’s a top-3 player in basketball with reason.
It doesn’t end there for the Thunder. Their frontcourt consists of Enes Kanter and Serge Ibaka. Kanter averaged 18.7 points and 11 rebounds in 26 games for the Thunder last season. Ibaka has led the NBA in blocks twice and is a two-time NBA All-Defensive First Team Selection.
The Thunder also have Steven Adams and the promising Mitch McGary off their bench. The Thunder have Dion Waiters and sharpshooter Anthony Morrow as well. D.J. Augustin and rookie Cameron Payne are their backup point guards.
The Thunder should reach the Conference Finals at least, with this roster.
Next: 3. San Antonio
Jan 28, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs players (from left to right)Kawhi Leonard
, andTim Duncan
, andTony Parker
watch on the bench during the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
3) San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are the favorites to win the title in many peoples view with good reason. The Spurs were seen as a potential contender, even if they have a quiet offseason. That didn’t happen as the Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge which probably made other contenders fear the Spurs. Aldridge is a 4-time All-Star and has averaged at least 23 points and 10 rebounds the past two seasons.
The Spurs already have the ageless trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. That’s not all the Spurs did in the offseason. They went on to sign former two-time All-Star David West to a veteran’s minimum contract. West could’ve gotten more than $10 million a year elsewhere. I know life isn’t fair.
The Spurs have Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard, who is their most complete player and Danny Green, a terrific “3-and-D” player. Their bench also has sharpshooter Patty Mills and do-it-all Boris Diaw. Kyle Anderson, who was a rookie last season is improving rapidly and Ray McCallum was acquired for a future second-round draft pick.
The Spurs will surely be elite, don’t be surprised if they are the champs in 2016.
Next: 4. Los Angeles Clippers
May 14, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guardChris Paul
(3) talks to Los Angeles Clippers forwardBlake Griffin
(32) in game six of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against Houston Rockets at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
4) Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers have all the talent in the world, once they get to the playoffs they fall apart. Last season the Spurs didn’t fall apart as they showed that it might be their season when they beat the Spurs in the first round. In the Western Conference Semifinals against Houston they held a 3-1 lead in the series before losing the final three games.
The Clippers have won at least 55 games in the past three seasons. The problem is that they haven’t even reached the Western Conference Finals. It feels as if it’s now or never for 8-time All-Star Chris Paul. The Clippers have an elite duo in Paul and Blake Griffin. DeAndre Jordan is emerging into one of the best centers, due to his rebounding and impact on defense. The Clippers have two good shooting guards in J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford.
What did they do in the offseason?
The Clippers added Josh Smith, who has had a good career. He also had a few big games in the playoffs for Houston. Paul Pierce was signed to a three-year deal with the Clippers. Cole Aldrich signed for two years and Wesley Johnson signed for a year. The Clippers also traded for Lance Stephenson, who was terrific in 2014 with Indiana.
What does this mean? An improved bench overnight will make them at least a little better come playoff time. The Clippers have what it takes to take the next step.
Next: 5. Houston
Jan 23, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets guardJames Harden
(13) and centerDwight Howard
(12) in the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
5) Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets shocked the world when they won three straight games against the Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Rockets won 56 games last season, despite Dwight Howard missing half the season. Thanks to MVP runner-up James Harden, the Rockets improved as a team and they had a successful season finishing second in a difficult conference.
When Howard is healthy the Rockets are surely a contender. The Rockets lost Josh Smith in the offseason, but traded for Ty Lawson. Lawson is one of the most underrated players in the league. Last year the 27-year old averaged 15.2 points and 9.6 assists with Denver. Adding Lawson gives the Rockets a reliable third scoring option. They already have a few terrific role players in Terrence Jones, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, and Donatas Motiejunas.
A healthy Rockets squad will surely contend, but it’s also possible that they are a first round exit, that’s how deep the Western Conference is.
Next: 6. Memphis
Apr 22, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forwardTony Allen
(9) Memphis Grizzlies guardCourtney Lee
(5) Memphis Grizzlies centerMarc Gasol
(33) Memphis Grizzlies forwardZach Randolph
(50) and Memphis Grizzlies guardMike Conley
(11) during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers in game two of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
6) Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies appeared to have a chance at their first NBA title when they took a 2-1 lead against Golden State in the Western Conference Semifinals, before losing the final three games.
They were one of few teams to not make any significant moves in the offseason.
The Grizzlies lost reliable backup center Kosta Koufos, but added Matt Barnes and Brandan Wright. Wright will bring defense and efficiency around the rim, sort of like Ed Davis a few seasons ago. Barnes might start at small forward with Tony Allen and Jeff Green coming off the bench.
The Grizzlies don’t have the young talent other teams have, as most of their top players are in their prime. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph form a lethal one-two punch inside and Mike Conley will always be one of the more underrated point guards for some strange reason. Conley can defend at a high level, make the right plays, and score.
The Grizzlies got Jarell Martin with their 25th pick. Martin is an NBA-ready rebounder and he plays with lots of energy. Maybe the Grizzlies will give Jordan Adams a chance in his second season. Adams is a good shooter with defensive ability.
The Grizzlies are an incredible defensive team, but it seems that they always fall short because they lack a go-to guy down the stretch of games. Expect another successful season, but no title.
Next: 7. New Orleans
Apr 25, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forwardAnthony Davis
(23) reacts after a score by the Golden State Warriors during the fourth quarter in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at the Smoothie King Center. The Warriors defeated the Pelicans 109-98. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
7) New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans are ahead of schedule. The Pelicans beat out the Thunder to the final playoff spot last season. Despite getting swept in the first round against the Warriors, they were competitive. In the first game they were getting blown out by 25 in the third quarter before cutting it to 4 points with less than 10 seconds to play. In games 2 and 3 the Pelicans actually had control for a heavy portion, particularly in game 3. In game 3 the Pelicans were up 20 through 3 quarters and they blew the lead. The Pelicans fell in overtime and all hope was lost for the series.
The Pelicans will look to bounce back from the sweep this season. MVP candidate Anthony Davis will lead the Pelicans. Davis averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks last season. Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday are the Pelicans next best options. The problem is that their leader, Holiday has faced injury the past two seasons. Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are reliable shooters, but have been injured for at least a good portion of the season in the last two seasons.
Omer Asik is their rim protector alongside Davis. The Pelicans will have to get some production from defensive minded Quincy Pondexter and Alexis Ajinca. The problem with the Pelicans is that they don’t have proven bench players beside Pondexter and Anderson. Ajinca had a good season last year but it wasn’t a big enough sample size. Norris Cole is up and down.
If Holiday is healthy, the Pelicans can surprise even the league’s best.
Next: 8. Phoenix
Dec 23, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guardEric Bledsoe
(2) celebrates with forwardMarkieff Morris
(11) in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Mavericks 124-115. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
8) Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns had a disappointing season last year as they won 39 games. After winning 48 games in 2013-14 and barely missing the postseason it appeared the Suns were rising. This year they will squeeze in the playoffs. The Suns will edge out Utah and Dallas.
The Suns have a good backcourt in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. Markieff Morris is a reliable stretch power forward.
In the offseason the Suns lost Marcus Morris and Gerald Green. However they did add Tyson Chandler, who should boost their defense immediately. In the draft the Suns took sharpshooter Devin Booker with the 13th pick. The Suns also have T.J. Warren who looked terrific as a rookie. Warren is a born scorer that has an arsenal of floaters and mid-range jumpers. He shot an impressive 53% from the field. Warren should edge out defensive minded P.J. Tucker for the starting small forward spot. Alex Len is raw but filled with potential, the addition of Chandler should help him out tremendously.
The Suns won’t contend, but they are a team that one cannot take likely. They will also be one of the league’s funnest teams to watch.