2016-17 NBA Western Conference Preview

Written by :
Published on : October 27, 2016

 

The NBA season is underway. I’ve already given you my forecast for the Eastern Conference, so let’s head to the Western Conference and see where it stands. There are some new faces in new places that may alter the pecking order of the conference.

 

15. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are a team without a clear leader or direction. Head coach Michael Malone has a tough task ahead of him to get some production from often injured stretch 4 Danilo Gallinari. Gallinari has been viewed as a player with the potential to be one of the best shooters in the game. He has yet to live to the hype. Kenneth Faried has been in the rumor cycle for years and has yet to be traded. This year would be the best year to start a total rebuild with second-year player Emmanuel Mudiay and rookie Jamal Murray developing chemistry in the backcourt. Nikola Jokic has shown promise and received votes for rookie of the year last year.

 

14. Los Angeles Lakers

walton coach

 

Head coach Luke Walton has several pieces with which to implement the scheme he learned from the Golden State Warriors. Brandon Ingram and D’Angelo Russell were selected number two in the past two drafts. Russell is expected to lead the team under Walton’s system. Once the team trusts in Walton and Russell they will start to vie for a playoff berth. It may take a few seasons but the team is young and athletic. Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle will help keep the team competitive. The best outcome is a year to let this current roster gel and build through the draft.

 

13. Phoenix Suns

A team with a ton of young talent at nearly every position. Also a strong Kentucky Wildcat presence with four former players on the roster. The team has NBA Champion Tyson Chandler on the team and he has always been respected as a leader in the locker room. Devin Booker was the youngest player in the league last year and his post All-Star break stats were great. If he can build on his rookie season and new coach Earl Watson can learn quickly on the job, this will be a very competitive team. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of offense Watson will implements with rookie Dragan Bender in the lineup.

 

12. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs benefited last year from a top-heavy Western Conference. The team was not good and squeaked into the playoffs. Now with various players moving to different teams within the conference (including former Maverick, Chandler Parsons) it will be very hard for the Mavs to make it to the playoffs again this season. Dirk Nowitzki is in the final years of his Hall Of Fame career. Unfortunately, the roster is void of a star player to lessen the load on the aging Nowitzki. The team paid Harrison Barnes a max salary to become the focal point of their team. Unless he becomes the next Kawhi Leonard, that money will become another example of the Mavs wasting away the years of Nowitzki.

 

11. Sacramento Kings

demarcus cousins

 

This team is so dysfunctional that I have to be equally crazy to give them a ranking this high. The Kings could very well be the worst team in the league even with DeMarcus Cousins. The saving grace is that I believe they picked up a good coach, in Dave Joerger, that willed a depleted Memphis Grizzles team to the playoffs last year. Cousins is becoming legendary for his coach killing ability. At some point, he will be held responsible for all the bodies that were laid to rest on his watch. The team does have some good veterans as well as some intriguing young talent. It could make for another interesting year in “Boogieworld.’

 

10. New Orleans Pelicans

Aside from the horrible team name, this team should be better under second-year head coach Alvin Gentry. The main issue is the health of Anthony Davis. If he is healthy, this is a team that could contend for a playoff spot. Without him they’re looking at a top 3 draft pick. Another team with some good veterans to go with some talented young players. Will Buddy Hield become the scorer they’ve been looking for?

 

9. Utah Jazz

I had Jazz fans coming for my neck last season because I picked them to be last in the conference. I do feel head coach Quin Snyder is on the hot seat this season if he does not get this team to the playoffs. Gordon Hayward is regarded as one of the most underrated players in the league. If he can bring his level of play up this season I think this team may sneak into the playoffs.

 

8. Memphis Grizzles

mike conley

 

A veteran team that got annihilated by the injury bug last season. They went into this offseason with a new coach (David Fizdale), gave Mike Conley the richest contract in history, and acquired Chandler Parsons in free agency. This team, when healthy, is easily a contender for the Western Conference Finals. The Grizzles still have to acquire someone who can score on the perimeter and create his own shot. Having Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the frontcourt has proven successful but at some point, the style of play of their competitors will make the two big men nonfactors.

 

7. Minnesota Timberwolves

The death of Flip Saunders last year possibly derailed this team from making it to the playoffs. I’m very intrigued by this team and the hiring of new President of Operations/Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. This team will make the playoffs. A few years ago Anthony Davis was expected to become the premier big man of the league. Due to injuries Davis has since been supplanted by DeMarcus Cousins and Timberwolves center Karl Anthony-Towns. Anthony-Towns is the reigning rookie of the year and a franchise talent. Add in former rookie of the year Andrew Wiggins, Slam Dunk Champion Zach LaVine, and point guard Ricky Rubio, this team has the legs to endure the push of Thibodeau’s system.

 

6. Houston Rockets

Moving James Harden to the point guard position and adding Mike D’Antoni to coach the team will be a fun car wreck to watch. The uptempo system of D’Antoni will surely help put Harden in the MVP race. While the team will suffer defensively, they will be able to run a tempo that will rival that of the Golden State Warriors.

 

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

Russell-Westbrook-Desktop

 

Russell Westbrook or die. That sums up the roster. Head coach Billy Donovan does not seem like a good fit for the NBA but he would be wise to just let Westbrook go to work. They do have two quality big men in Steven Adams and Enes Kanter that can cause problems for opposing teams. Victor Oladipo may be the shooting guard this team has needed since the departure of James Harden. Westbrook will put up amazing stats but the team will have to monitor his health over the course of the year.

 

4. Los Angeles Clippers

This team has one more year to make a championship run or it will possibly start over. There have been trade rumors for years around Blake Griffin. This season may be the year that he and Chris Paul could be moved in order to start over. Team President and head coach Doc Rivers has yet to deliver on championship promises despite having a pretty stacked roster. It’s put up or shut up time for Mr. Rivers and Co.

 

3. Portland Trailblazers

Last year, everyone wrote the Blazers off (including myself). They were expected to be one of the worst teams in the league. They overachieved and made it to the playoffs with one of the youngest rosters. This year they’ve added some veterans and re-signed some of their own to contract extensions (Allen Crabbe and C.J. McCollum). Damian Lillard is out to prove he’s one of the best point guards in the game after being snubbed of an All-Star berth last year. They’re young and athletic. Most of all, they’re coached well by Terry Stotts. This team will shock a lot of people and possibly upset the Spurs or Warriors.

 

2. San Antonio Spurs

kawhi-leonard-1

 

Life post-Tim Duncan. No one knows how it will unfold but Kawhi Leonard looks as if he is ready to take over the franchise. He’s only 25 years old and they’ve added superior front court help in consecutive seasons (Lamarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol). The most boring yet consistent team in league history will continue to give people fits.

 

1. Golden State Warriors

Last tear this team won 73 games. It is now a league record. They lost in the NBA Finals after being ahead of the Cavaliers 3-1. They let the majority of their role players leave via free agency (including Harrison Barnes). Then they added Kevin Durant. Stephen Curry took the summer to get healthy after battling knee problems during the playoffs. Oh and they still have Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. Head coach Steve Kerr will probably scale back the minutes to preserve his players for a long playoff run. This should be the first of a few championships for the new look Warriors.

 

 

There you have it everyone. That’s how the NBA Western Conference will shake out come playoff time. Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy some basketball. Drop a line in the comments and tell me where you think I’m on point and where you think I’m way off.

 

 


3 Reasons the Thunder will beat the Warriors, and vice versa

Written by :
Published on : May 16, 2016

 

 

The Western Conference Finals begin Monday night, but it’s not the matchup everyone was expecting after the Oklahoma City Thunder upset the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semi-finals. The top-seeded Golden State Warriors have been taking care of business with or without two-time MVP Stephen Curry, ousting the Blazers in just five games. While the Warriors are the overwhelming favorites, no one gave the Thunder a shot against the Spurs, so I wouldn’t rule them out against Golden State either. This a series featuring two extremely talented teams with completely different playing styles. There’s a lot of different ways this one could play, so I’ll make a case for both sides. Let’s start with the underdogs…

 

3 reasons the Thunder will upset the Warriors as they did San Antonio:

 

 

1. Durant and Westbrook are locked in

KD Russ

 

After getting blown out by the Spurs in game one, much due to uncharacteristically bad performances by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder’s lethal duo bounced back with authority. In games two-through-six, Durant averaged 31 points, while Westbrook put up his usual ridiculous numbers, averaging 27.4 points, 10.8 assists, and 7.4 rebounds. Of course, we all know these two rack up incredible stats, but it was the way they took over the series and continued finding ways to generate offense against the best defensive team in the NBA that made this so impressive.

 

Durant and Westbrook are playing with better rhythm and harmony than ever before. Rarely have these two stayed healthy deep into playoff runs, and when they have, they’ve made it to the conference Finals or beyond. Right now, they are healthy and clicking better than ever. Westbrook is dialing back on the circus shots and over-dribbling, and Durant is proving he can handle the pressure on the biggest stage. While Golden State has quite possibly the best player in the NBA, Oklahoma City is the only team in the league that can truly claim to have two of the best five.

 

2. Size matters

Adams Ibaka

 

After Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder’s next three leading scorers in the playoffs are all traditional big men (power forwards and centers): Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, and Enes Kanter. Very rare for the current NBA era, where teams are going with smaller, more athletic lineups stacked with three point shooters that can run, spread the floor and hit open shots. While there is certainly a reason to be concerned about OKC’s ability to handle Golden State’s speed and shooting, they should be able to cause equally difficult matchup problems with the post-scoring, shot-blocking and rebounding abilities of their three big men.

 

No matter how tempting it may be for OKC to go small to try to run with the Warriors, they can not beat Golden State at their own game. The Thunder have to play into their own strengths, and that means giving plenty of minutes to Ibaka, Adams and Kanter, often playing two at the same time. They will have to deal with giving up some fast break points in exchange for getting some offensive rebounds and easy post-up baskets, but Oklahoma City has to stay dedicated to beating Golden State with size and physicality.

 

3. Curry’s injuries could still be a problem

Curry hurt

 

While two weeks of rest is plenty for a grade 1 MCL sprain, the fact that the Warriors took such a cautious approach with their superstar, combined with the fact that he missed two games in the first round due to a sprained ankle in the same right leg, suggest that Steph Curry might not be entirely in the clear. Typically when the team favored to win it all sits their best player for two weeks in the playoffs, it’s a somewhat serious injury. Obviously he’s still capable of playing as well as anyone in the league, as proven in games four and five against Portland, but there’s still fear that at any moment he might tweak, twist, or turn something in that pesky right leg again and need to hit the bench for extended time or even miss more games. This wasn’t a major issue against mediocre competition like the Blazers and Rockets, but if Curry isn’t on top of his game against Oklahoma City, the Thunder will be moving on the Finals.

 

C’mon man! We’re talking about the defending NBA Champions, who are fresh off the best regular season in league history. The Warriors are a damn-near unstoppable force, led by back-to-back MVP Steph Curry. You’re just gonna throw out three half-assed reasons on why the Thunder will beat them and say that’s a wrap?!

 

Calm down angry Warriors fan who doesn’t understand the concept of my fair and balanced article. First of all, I’m using my whole ass. And now, without further ado…

 

3 reasons the Warriors will beat the Thunder and get back to the NBA Finals:

 

 

1. Recent history

Golden State

 

The Warriors had the best record in the NBA last season and went on to win the championship. They had the best record in NBA history this year and they coasted through the first two rounds the playoffs, despite missing their best player for much of the run. That player is also just won his second straight MVP award. These things tend to mean something. In this case, it means they deserve to be considered the best team in the NBA, and they should be favored in any series.

 

Sure, Oklahoma City just knocked off a tougher opponent than Golden State has faced in the playoffs this year, which makes the Thunder a little hotter in the “what have you done for me lately” department. But there’s a reason OKC had to face the Spurs in the second round; they were the three seed and the Warriors were the one seed. Golden State won 18 more games than the the Thunder this season. That’s a lot more wins. Even if Oklahoma City somehow bought all of the Lakers wins in the 2015-2016 season, they would still have one less than the Warriors. The Warriors have the much more impressive track record over the last two years, and one impressive series win does not make the Thunder the favorites.

 

2. They have creators

Warriors high five

 

The Thunder’s biggest strength are listed in points 1 & 2 in the section above: They have Durant and Westbrook, and they have three really good big men. But their weakness is just as glaring: lack of players who can handle the ball, create space and get open shots and generate offense for others. It’s nice to have bigs that can get you double-doubles, but those guys generally need help from guards and wings to get them the ball in position to score. In the playoffs, Golden State has six players in the small positions (point guard, shooting guard and small forward) that average over 6 point per game, and that’s not including Draymond Green who plays power forward, but can stretch the floor and do just about everything on a basketball court.

 

Oklahoma City only has three players at the small positions averaging over 6 points per game: Durant (27.4), Westbrook (25.5), and Dion Waiters (9.4). Looking at the assist numbers is even more alarming for Thunder fans, as they only have two players averaging over 2 assists per game in the postseason: Westbrook (10.8) and Durant (3.6). Dion Waiters is their third assist leader with a measly 2 dimes per game. Golden State, meanwhile, has five players averaging over 2 assists per game. The Warriors as a team are dishing out a league-leading 27.1 assist per game to the Thunder’s 20.2 (9th among the 16 teams in the playoffs). The Warriors also have the edge in three point shooting (12.2 per game vs. OKC’s 8.5).

 

What this means (for those of you who haven’t figured it out) is Golden State can move the ball and shoot regardless who’s on the court, giving them the freedom to give Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson some much needed rest. Oklahoma City on the other hand, will struggle to score and be very turnover prone any time Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are on the bench. If either of these guys have an off night, or get into early foul trouble, it will be nearly impossible for the Thunder to find a way to win.

 

3. He’s back baby!

curry steph

 

You may have read my article a few weeks ago explaining why Steph Curry’s injury was more serious than the team lead on. While that could still be true, he showed no reason for concern in games four and five against Portland. Curry logged 37 minutes in each contest, the most he’s played since April 5. In game four, he came off the bench, looking rusty for much of the game, until he got hot in the fourth quarter, then got hotter in overtime with an NBA-record 17 points, finishing with 40 in the game. He looked like his usual self again in game five as well, scoring 29 with 11 assists and helping put the Blazers out of their misery. Yes, he just sat out for two weeks with sprained right MCL. Yes, he missed two games before that with a sprained ankle in the same leg. And yes, it’s possible that he’s in a fragile state right now and has some nagging injuries, but he certainly gave us the confidence that he is back to MVP form. He also gave himself another four days of rest by finishing off Portland in just five games.

 

Three of the best players in the world will be on display. Both teams will cause matchup problems for the other: Oklahoma City with their size, and Golden State with their ball movement and ability to spread the floor and shoot. In the end, I think the Golden State will have the edge. They just have more guys at the wing and guard positions that can create offense. The Thunder will demand a little too much out of Durant and Westbrook, and the Warriors will be more consistent and efficient on the offensive end. This could all change depending on the status of Steph Curry’s right leg, but until then, I’m picking the Warriors in seven games in what should be the best series in of 2016 playoffs so far.

 

Enjoy.

 

 


Thunder Bounce Spurs

Written by :
Published on : May 12, 2016

 

 

The Oklahoma City Thunder won the all important game 5 on Tuesday to take the series lead 3-2 over the San Antonio Spurs. Game 6 in OKC saw the Spurs battling for their playoff lives. This is a team that many picked to win it all. But the Thunder would not be denied in front of their home town crowd. They went up early and held off a valiant comeback to secure the big win, playing like they truly understood that a game 7 back in San Antonio was too dangerous a proposition. Oklahoma is now headed to the Western Conference Finals where they will face the Golden State Warriors. But before we get into that, let’s examine the details of their series clinching win in game 6.

 

The stars shined

thunder KD 2

 

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook look like the best one-two punch in the league. Durant had 37 points, 9 rebounds and hit all 12 of his free throws. Westbrook had 28 points, 12 assists and was also a perfect 6 for 6 from the line. If you are going to win then your best players need to come up big and that’s exactly what happened. There were many times during the past where this duo has not always meshed together. But no longer. They are sharing the ball and forcing opposing defenses to pick their poison. Double one star and the other will gash you. Try and lock down both and you leave super easy buckets for the other starters. If KD and Russ keep up this pace then they have a legit shot at a title.

 

Spurs showed their age

Beyond Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs seemed just a bit slower. Tim Duncan wasn’t much of a factor until too late and Parker and Ginobili weren’t creating as normal. Ibaka’s block on Duncan’s slam late in the 4th was a telling moment. Maybe we are finally seeing the end of this power trio that has dominated the NBA over the last decade. San Antonio is a powerhouse organization and they will retool as needed but the vets of the Spurs were no match for the young guns of the Thunder. I could see coach Popovich and company recruit another all star in the offseason to join Leonard and Aldridge. This could be the new ‘Big Three.’ Only time will tell. Either way, hats off to Tim Duncan, a class act and an all-time great.

 

Thunder role players stepped up

THUNDER SPURS BASKETBALL

 

Adams, Ibaka and Roberson all had big contributions on both sides of the court. Each time OKC needed a play, there was a block, steal, or offensive rebound that kept the Thunder playing with a lead. It’s these extra possessions and baskets that make the Durant and Westbrook team so lethal.

 

Now the Thunder move on to meet MVP Steph Curry and the red hot Warriors. If Oklahoma is to advance to the NBA Finals then they need to aggressively guard the three point line and keep their foot on the gas pedal. I expect some high scoring games with the league’s best on display. This could be KD and Russ’ last series together as Durant may walk in free agency. The ‘last ride’ theme is fueling this squad and they have all the tools needed to claim a trophy. I truly like this Thunder team and I would enjoy seeing them win a title but I just can’t pick anyone to beat Golden State with a healthy Steph.  

 

 

Warriors in 6.

 

 


Impact of Curry and Clippers injuries

Written by :
Published on : April 27, 2016

 

 

It has quickly turned into the talk of the NBA playoffs: Golden State Warriors megastar point guard, and soon-to-be back-to-back NBA MVP, Steph Curry, exited Sunday’s game in Houston with a knee injury. On Monday, the Warriors revealed that he sprained his MCL and the team ruled him out for at least two weeks, at which point he will be reevaluated.

 

The fallout from Curry’s knee injury likely won’t take affect in the first round, as Golden State went on to destroy the Rockets 121-94 without him on Sunday and took a 3-1 lead in the series. The Warriors should have no problem finishing off Houston without their best player. In all likelihood, the Warriors could bench their entire starting lineup and still beat the embarrassingly underachieving Rockets.

 

I was in the process of writing an article explaining why the Warriors would need Curry to return at some point in the second round in order to beat the Clippers. But when Chris Paul broke his hand on Monday night in Portland, likely ending his season, the tone of this article changed significantly. Then on Tuesday, in more shocking news, the Clippers announced that all-star forward Blake Griffin would miss the remainder of the playoffs after reaggravating a left quadriceps injury. Now the tone of this article has changed drastically.

 

chris-paul-hand

 

Not only are Chris Paul and Blake Griffin the two most awkwardly funny pitchmen in the NBA, they’re also the two best players on the Clippers. Without Paul and Griffin, and with the series knotted at two games each, the Clippers will probably drop the next two games against the Blazers and see yet another season end disappointingly early.

 

The Warriors may be breathing a slight sigh of relief since the Blazers are a much more beatable foe than the Clippers would be at full strength. Still, this is no gimme for Golden State. I’m not discrediting the Warriors sans Curry, they obviously have a great team. But if you take the best player off of any NBA team, their chances of winning a championship are close to zero, and their chances of winning any playoff series drop significantly (as supported by my prediction of the Clippers crumbling). Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are very good players. But if you remove Steph Curry from that roster, the Warriors go from a team that just set the NBA record for wins in a season, to a team that would probably be the fourth or fifth seed in the Western Conference right now.

 

When Kevin Durant missed most of last season with a foot injury, the Thunder failed to even make the playoffs, despite an MVP-caliber year from Russell Westbrook. This year, Durant stayed healthy and got back to elite form, and Oklahoma City is one of the top four teams in the NBA. It’s a team game, but it’s also a star driven league.

 

KevinDurant hurt

 

It’s hard to predict how this is going to play out for the Warriors, because of how the team is handling Steph Curry’s injury. He was diagnosed with a Grade 1 MCL sprain, which is the least severe type of sprain, and seemed like the best news possible for Warriors fans. But declaring him out for at least two weeks before being reevaluated is a reaction fit for a more severe injury.

 

Houston-based orthopedic surgeon Mark Adickes joined SportsCenter on Monday to discuss the injury. Adickes was surprised the Warriors were ruling Curry out for so long. He explained that typically a player can return within days from a Grade 1 MCL sprain and might not even need to miss a game. Adickes then speculated that Curry may be dealing with a bone bruise, or a more serious injury. And his speculating got me speculating…

 

The second round is scheduled to start May 2, at which point Steph Curry will still be a week away from his reevaluation. If Curry is ready to return as soon as he hits his two week mark, he will likely only miss the first three games of that series. Factoring in the recent bad news from Los Angeles, Golden State should be fine without him for the for the first three or four games against Portland, but they will probably need some help from the Baby-Faced Assassin to finish off the Blazers. And they will definitely need him to be close to 100% to beat the San Antonio Spurs, or the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.

 

Portland Trail Blazers v Sacramento Kings

 

The NBA Playoffs typically come down the best team that stays healthy. The fact that the Warriors are taking such a cautious approach with Steph Curry tells me there is reason to be concerned. When players suffer serious (or even semi-serious) injuries in the playoffs, they’re rarely able to recover quickly enough to perform at their best. I have a bad feeling that Curry’s injury will linger, forcing him off the court sporadically. There’s also the fear of Curry reaggravating the injury and missing more games, or being shut down for the season.

 

The uncertainty surrounding Steph Curry is enough for me to switch my Western Conference Champion pick from the Warriors to the Spurs. It might seem like I’m overreacting, and sure, I might alter this prediction if Curry shockingly returns in game one of the second round, scores 45 points and shows no sign of being affected by his knee injury. But in the NBA Playoffs, you only go as far as your star players take you. And when the biggest star in the league gets injured, it changes the whole picture.

 

 


2015 NBA Western Conference Preview

Written by :
Published on : October 19, 2015

 

For my second installment of the 2015 NBA Season Preview, I’ll be going through the Western Conference. As with the Eastern Conference, several stars will be making their return from season ending injuries. The most anticipated return is Oklahoma City small forward, Kevin Durant. There is concern that Durant’s foot injury will be a chronic ailment for the rest of his career. Nonetheless, with free agency looming and a new coaching regime intact this will be a season where he must stake his claim as the best player in the world. The Los Angeles Lakers are in transition mode as they prepare to enter life without shooting guard, Kobe Bryant. Bryant is in the final year of his contract and he is also returning from a torn rotator cuff injury. With a few coaching changes and notable key additions to rosters, the West looks to continue its championship dominance. Seven of the last ten NBA Championship teams have come from the Western Conference. Six of those ten years the Eastern Conference team has been led by current Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James. Without James, it is safe to surmise that the Western Conference would have more teams hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

 

15. Utah Jazz

Can the Jazz get the band playing in tune?

 

There’s not much to like about this team. A young coach with a young team and no sense of direction for the future. The team has not been successful since parting with former head coach Jerry Sloan. Also, the team is frugal in terms of spending money on free agents, not to mention Salt Lake City is not an ideal free agent destination. Former first round pick, point guard Dante Exum was hurt late last season and must take a leap in production for this team to be competitive. Power forward Rudy Gobert is a fascinating player but must put all his athletic gifts together with improved shooting and shot selection. It is an ideal situation for 2015 NBA Draft pick PF Trey Lyles to get significant minutes as a rookie. Head coach Quin Snyder has to teach this team fundamentals before they can contend for a playoff berth.

 

 

14. Phoenix Suns

Here’s another team with a plethora of young talent, especially at the prized point guard position. Head coach Jeff Hornacek employed a three guard set last season, with mixed results. PG Eric Bledsoe was given a hefty contract after playing sparingly with Los Angeles Clippers. He is now the leader of a young team and must co-exist with PG Brandon Knight, who is also a ball dominant guard. The addition of Center Tyson Chandler is a great pick up for the defense as well as the locker room. I’m interested to watch the maturation of SF T.J. Warren. Warren has a good inside-outside game and can complement the two PG backcourt of the Suns.

 

 

13. Portland Trailblazers

It’ll be the Damian Lillard show in Portland this year.

 

The Trailblazers 2015-16 season will be an individual showcase of PG Damian Lillard. The team lacks a secondary scoring option and depth. PF Noah Vonleh is a player that could benefit from a change of scenery after playing little minutes with the Charlotte Hornets. PG C.J. McCollum can score in bunches, but will he get lost in the shuffle while Lillard is forced to play hero ball? Lillard is one of the leagues best fourth quarter scorers, and with his team set to be behind in many games, that will have his teammates missing valuable touches. Lillard will have MVP numbers but this team will take a giant step back in the Western Conference hierarchy.

 

 

12. Los Angeles Lakers

For one of the storied franchises in the world, this will be another year of rebuilding. The return of Bryant will make them a tough team to beat but they will also feature several rookie players at key positions. PG D’Angelo Russell is being groomed to become the face of the franchise. However, he is in a conference with some of the elite point guards and will struggle mightily in his first season. The return of PF Julius Randle will bolster a suspect front line but he is undersized compared to his positional peers. C Roy Hibbert has the opportunity to resurrect his career after two subpar seasons with the Indiana Pacers. Overall, head coach Byron Scott has to manage Bryant’s minutes and ego, Metta World Peace, and a roster full of young talent. Can he survive the season unscathed?

 

 

11. Denver Nuggets

This is Faried’s team.

 

The Nuggets would be near the bottom of my list if not for the return of SF Danilo Gallinari. He’s a great shooter and a willing slasher. He was missed last year as the team floundered under former head coach Brian Shaw. The team drafted PG Emmanuel Mudiay and he has the physical makeup of a NBA all star. His ability to get to the rim as well as his length will allow him to have a better transition to the pros than most guards. PF Kenneth Faried is the unquestioned leader and will benefit from having more structure under new head coach Michael Malone. This team is a SG and a capable C away from sneaking into the playoffs.

 

 

10. Sacramento Kings

I think most NBA fans are looking for drama more than basketball with this team. With new head coach George Karl, C Demarcus Cousins, PG Rajon Rondo and SF Rudy Gay, this team has too many egos to co-exist for an entire season. There are already reports of a rift between Cousins and Karl. Rondo’s game has deteriorated over the past few seasons, yet he is a good fit as a guard that’s not ball dominant. His ability to get the ball to open players such as Gay and SG Ben McLemore will lead to more wins than projected for this team. The team drafted C Willie Cauley-Stein and I believe that moving Cousins to the PF position could elevate this team to a playoff berth. If the Kings can come together and co-exist this could be the surprise team of the NBA, especially playing Karl’s style of offense.

 

 

9. Dallas Mavericks

Can Carlisle shout his team into the playoffs?

 

The victims of Deandre-gate will miss the playoffs this season after making a great effort to improve their roster in free agency. SF Chandler Parsons will become the number one option after PF Dirk Nowitzki. Parsons is an all around polished offensive player and will be able to provide balance for the offense. The acquisition of PG Deron Williams adds a veteran presence as the floor general but his contribution will depend on what type of player he will be. Will he be the Williams that was once in discussion as the best PG in the league or the injury riddled player that toiled away on the Brooklyn Nets? With the healthy return of SG Wesley Matthews, head coach Rick Carlisle has a team that could sneak into the playoffs but does not have the depth to escape the first round.

 

 

8. Minnesota Timberwolves

I really like this team. It has depth at every position. It also has a great mix of both young talent and proven veterans. Being in a stacked western conference is the lone factor placing this team at #8 in my rankings. Not long ago, the team started rebuilding after they gifted the Boston Celtics a championship hungry PF Kevin Garnett. Soon after, they took PG Ricky Rubio and also drafted Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson. It is still remembered as one of the bizarre draft nights in NBA history. Should I mention that they passed on PG Stephen Curry, twice in the same night? Nonetheless, this year’s Timberwolves team may sneak into the playoffs and give a top seed some problems. Second year SF Andrew Wiggins will look to improve on a stellar second half of the season last year when he averaged 20 PPG. Combo guard Zach LaVine became an overnight celebrity after a sensational performance at the 2015 NBA Dunk Contest. If he can provide relief for SG Kevin Martin, I believe they have enough scoring to match their opposition. Garnett will be an on court mentor for #1 draft pick C Karl Anthony-Towns. He is a gifted defender and his rim protection will help this team begin its rise in the tough Western conference.

 

 

7. New Orlean Pelicans

Will Anthony Davis continue his meteoric rise through the ranks of the NBA’s best?

 

Despite a horrible name change, the Pelicans have arguably one of the best players in the league in PF Anthony Davis. In new head coach Alvin Gentry’s system, Davis will be able to roam near the 3-point line more and he will be the focal point of the offense. Combo guard Tyreke Evans will be asked to facilitate the offense which suits his skill set best and will hopefully bring him near the production from when he was named Rookie of the year. PF Ryan Anderson will get plenty of opportunity to shoot in this offense as ball movement and spacing is paramount to the success of Gentry’s scheme. With PG Jrue Holiday and C Omer Asik the team has enough tools to compete in the West.

 

 

6. Memphis Grizzlies

As much as head coach, David Joerger tried to get away from the “Grit and Grind” mentality the team has adopted over the years, it’s what allowed them to remain in the hunt in the West last year. The team acquired SF Jeff Green last season to help incorporate some offensive firepower. The team is constructed to wear teams down in the paint with C Marc Gasol and PF Zach Randolph, and they didn’t make any significant changes this offseason. In a league where every team is trying to win the possession and pace war, the Grizzlies look set to slow the game down and chip away at teams. This approach will keep them in the championship hunt at least one more season but it would be wise to address the lack of depth and offensive talent.

 

 

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

Will the return of Durant be enough for a team with other holes?

 

On paper having two top ten NBA players at their disposal would leave most fans scratching their head at why I have this team ranked so low. PG Russell Westbrook and SF Kevin Durant have become the top duo in the league. The problem with this team is the transition from former head coach Scott Brooks to new coach Billy Donovan. Donovan is coming straight from the college ranks. It will be interesting to see how quickly he acclimates to the pro game with numerous egos and contract disputes (see David Blatt). C Enes Kanter gave the team an another offensive option when Durant was injured. How will all these pieces mesh now that Durant is back in the fold? Defensively, I believe this team will struggle to stop some of the top teams in the West. PF Serge Ibaka is a help defender but was exposed last year by several opponents for suspect individual defense. Overall, this team will be in transition and with Durant’s free agency looming, there are changes on the horizon before this team can stake a claim as championship caliber.

 

 

4. Houston Rockets

The Rockets are a good team but they fade in clutch moments. SG James Harden was sensational last season, narrowly missing his first MVP title. C Dwight Howard recently admitted he played last postseason with a torn MCL. The team also lost starting PG Patrick Beverly to a hand injury which placed too much ball handling responsibility on Harden. Head coach Kevin McHale has the players at his disposal to challenge for the right to represent the Western conference in the NBA Finals. His star players must be available and able to deliver in key moments. The team drafted SF Sam Dekker and he will provide a similar game to former Rocket, Chandler Parsons. This team will go as far Howard and Harden will take them.

 

 

3. Golden State Warriors

It’s going to take a lot to repeat but the Warriors have the talent.

 

The 2015 NBA Champions will have a target on their back as they didn’t make many friends on their journey to the championship. The team boasted the best record in the NBA last year with 67 wins. The team also benefited from an odd season in which some of the top stars on rival teams were injured. The Warriors coaching staff did a phenomenal job in managing minutes and constructing a roster with players that complemented each other. 2015 NBA MVP PG Stephen Curry had a healthy season and averaged only 33 minutes a game. Curry is considered one of the most humble players in the league but his contract may become an issue as he is the 5th highest paid player on his team. The obstacle this team must overcome is staying motivated after a great season last year. SG Klay Thompson had a pedestrian performance in the final two rounds of last year’s playoffs. He is one of the best two way players in the league and if he can continue to thrive next to Curry this team will make another run at a championship. It will be interesting to see how much last year’s success was due to the the tutelage of former associate head coach Alvin Gentry or the innovative style of head coach Steve Kerr.

 

 

2. Los Angeles Clippers

On paper this team is loaded at every position and it has one of the best head coaches in the league. This team pulled an O.J. Simpson on Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Cuban appeared to have stolen C Deandre Jordan from the Clippers. Then out of nowhere Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and Paul Pierce alongside head coach Doc Rivers “broke” into Jordan’s home. From there they held Jordan hostage until he agreed to sign a contract with the team, leaving the Mavericks in crisis mode and Cuban allegedly driving around Houston looking for Jordan’s house. After retaining Jordan’s services, the team acquired combo guard Lance Stevenson in a trade, signed PF Josh Smith to a one year deal, and signed Paul Pierce. With this collection of talent to pair alongside Paul, Griffin, and J.J. Redick the question now becomes is it too many good players? Although he is terribly erratic, Stevenson plays better with the ball in his hands as a facilitator. Smith has an awful penchant for shooting 3’s even if his low 30 shooting percentage suggests he should play near the paint. Pierce has never been a quick player but he is extremely crafty. Will he slow down Lob City? This is why Rivers is the President of Basketball Operations. If he can get players to buy in to less minutes and more importantly less points (see Golden State Warriors) he has the artillery to win the championship.

 

1. San Antonio Spurs

It’s all about Tim and Gregg.

 

Tim Duncan. Gregg Popovich. The narrative of why this team is number one in my preseason power ranking could end here but they’ve added some great pieces to an already formidable group. PF Lamarcus Aldridge is the bridge between the past decade of Spurs dominance and life post-Duncan/Popovich. Aldridge will benefit being in a system that will allow him to stretch the floor and let other bigs do the dirty work in the paint. Playing with Lillard must have pushed him closer out the door as there is no guarantee on how long Popovich will remain head coach. The opportunity to be in championship contention the next few years landed Aldridge in San Antonio. PF David West gives the Spurs depth at both front court positions in a league where quality big men are scarce. PG Tony Parker and SG Danny Green will benefit from pick and rolls leaving them open for 3’s or a clear lane for layups. SF Kawhi Leonard will continue his charge up the NBA superstar hierarchy as the clear defensive ace of the Spurs. The Spurs are flawed in terms of depth at the PG and SG positions but as a whole this team will be tough to beat in June.

 

 

 


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