The NBA’s Western Conference currently features the best basketball in the world. It is made up of super-teams and superstars and is operating on a different level from the East. Over the last three seasons the Eastern Conference has had seven 50-win teams while the West has had 19. During the same span the East players have earned 11 All-NBA selections, while West players have earned 34.
The Super Teams
Last year the Golden State Warriors became the first team since the 06-07 Mavs to win 67 games in the regular season and became the first team since the 07-08 Celtics to have a double-digit average margin of victory. Oh and they won Golden State its fourth NBA championship. Curry made the most threes of all time and was MVP, Klay was All-NBA, Draymond was 2nd in DPOY voting, and Kerr was 2nd in COY. Last year’s team caught lightening in a bottle. This year will write the legacy for last year: will the Curry Warriors go down as one fantastic season, or, like the best teams of all time, will they take over the league for an extended period?
The other powerhouse teams in the Western Conference went on an arms race this summer to keep up with each other. The Spurs brought in LaMarcus Aldridge, the Rockets got Ty Lawson, the Thunder re-signed Enes Kanter, and the Clippers got Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, and Lance Stephenson. These teams all enter the season as championship contenders.
The Clippers will field the best roster of the Chris Paul era, while the Rockets will field the best roster of the James Harden era. Both teams feature an alpha dog, dominating superstar (Paul, Harden), a second blue-chip upper echelon player (Griffin, Howard), and a third boarder-line all-star (Jordan, Lawson). Both also feature another high-quality starter (Redick, Ariza) and a cast of accomplished and legitimate role players.
The Spurs and the Thunder have both been to the Western Conference finals three times in the last five years. They have the first and third best title odds in the conference, and both could win 60 games. But both also offer heavy intrigue. The Spurs have a new superstar, the Thunder have a new coach, and players on both teams will have to adjust to new roles. I expect both teams to preform about as well as the faces of their franchise—Duncan and Durant.
The Grizzlies “only” brought in Matt Barnes and Brandon Wright, which is part of the reason they are expected to take a step back from this group. But the trio of Big Spain, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph has won 50 games for three straight years and been to the playoffs for five straight (best finish: WCF) so I’m going to need to see it first.
Batman without a Robin
Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were the only two players last year to average 24 ppg and 10 rpg. Last year the second best player on the Pelicans was Tyreke Evans and the second best player on the Kings was Rudy Gay… The Cans were a trendy sleeper pick this year but they caught the injury bug, while the Kings are crazy and made crazy moves over the summer, but now employ and coach and point guard with NBA resumes. AD is the golden boy while DeMarcus is a wildcard, but both players will face similar challenges and have to carry similar burdens.
Fighting for the Playoffs
Utah, Dallas, and Phoenix all hope to sneak into the playoffs this year. Their reward would be losing to one of the Western Powers, but it is an honorable goal. Utah is the best bet as it features a potent front line of Hayward, Favors, and Gobert. This Jazz core “stifles” on defense and gets enough offense from a Hayward/Favors pick and roll—two all-star hopefuls in their prime.
Dallas seems like they will re-tool in the summer every year until Nowitzki retires. This year’s iteration features interesting starters on the perimeter in Parsons, Matthews, and Deron Williams—but all three are damaged goods. Parsons and Matthews could be dynamite wings if they were just both healthy.
Phoenix could be fun, but they can’t be as fun as they were two years ago when they didn’t even make the playoffs. Bledsoe, Knight, Chandler, Morris: the Suns have good players. But I’m just not that inspired. I miss Nash, Amare, and Marion!
It would utterly shock me if the Lakers, Timberwolves, Nuggets, or Trailblazers made the postseason. The Blazers are starting over this year after blowing up last year’s team and ending the LaMarcus Aldridge era. Two-time All-Star Damian Lillard, age 25, is the only returning starter and the new face of the franchise. It will take time to rebuild. The Lakers, meanwhile, are dedicating the season to the Kobe Show and hopefully to player development. They probably won’t have a draft pick this year, but Julius Randle looked good in preseason and D’Angelo Russel makes some sweet passes.
The Wolves and Nugs are dedicating this year to player development and tanking instead of trying to make the playoffs. The Wolves now have the most exciting young prostects in the league in number one picks Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. The Nuggets will start Emmanuel Mudiay at the point, a move that is more for the long-term than short. Rookie starting PG’s often put up big, inefficient numbers while getting to learn on the job by making mistakes.