I’m still drooling over what has been the most satisfying and scintillating NBA off-season in history. Every month had some sort of All-NBA player moving to another squad; in most cases, that player shifted from the Eastern Conference to the West. As a result, we have a tremendous playoff race ready to unfold. There are 10 quality teams who will battle it out for only 8 precious spots.
(Aside: I don’t buy into any of the recent talk from Adam Silver on restructuring the playoffs to a 1- 16 seed format. To make sense, you’d have to eliminate divisions and conferences, as well as balance the schedule. Anyways….)
Here’s a look at who’s in for sure, who will have to grind it out, and who’s playing for draft lottery balls in our NBA 2017-18 Western Conference preview.
Punch That Ticket
Record 69-13 (1st) Golden State Warriors - Did this team get BETTER in the off-season? With barely any changes (adding crazy Nick Young should be fun), plus being able to lock up key pieces (Steph for mega-dough, KD at a discount), the Warriors will have consistency and even more chemistry after coming off a dominant 2016 playoff run.
Record 63-19 (2nd) Oklahoma City Thunder - Let’s just give Sam Presti the Executive of the Year award already. Why? To get Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, here’s what he had to sacrifice (Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, 2018 2nd round pick). Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook now has the running mates to give GSW a bit of a threat in the Western Conference Finals.
Record 54-28 (3rd) Houston Rockets - No doubt this team is in the playoffs. They simply have too much offense to not get in. But did they really get better? James Harden is coming off a career year where he scored 29ppg and led league with 11apg. But now, his role will change with the addition of Chris Paul…32 year old Chris Paul. I’m not convinced he improves a team. Despite all the hype of CP3 making everyone else better, he’s never led a team past the 2nd round. And as good as his defense is, he still has to guard plenty of elite West PG’s (Westbrook, Conley, Curry, etc.)
Gonna Make You Sweat
Record: 51 - 31 (4th) San Antonio Spurs - “This is the year the Spurs finally fall!” It feels we’ve been saying that for the last 5 years. While they’ll still make it in to the postseason, the reality is that they are no longer among the West’s elite. They just don’t have the firepower necessary to compete with the Big 3. Kawhi Leonard is arguably the best 2-way player in the NBA, but after that, who else will step up? Aldridge had a dreadful year, and unless he bounces back, the Spurs seemed destined for a 2nd round exit.
Record: 50-32 (5th) Denver Nuggets - it feels weird to think of the Nuggets so high in the Wild West. However, there is a stat that shows that Denver, and not the Warriors, had the best offense in the second half of last year. What is that stat? I don’t remember, and I really don’t believe it, either but…lots of young talent will push the pace in the high altitude of Denver.
Record: 48-34 (6th) LA Clippers - We get to see, for a full season, if The Ewing Theory is real (if you don’t know what that is, click here) . With Paul gone, and a slew of new bodies coming in, the Clip Show will spend some time gelling, and yet the highlights won’t stop. Another pass from Milos Teodosic! (preview the hype on him here)
Record: 47-35 (7th) Minnesota Timberwolves - Ok you young kids….are you finally ready to show your stuff! KAT and Andrew Wiggins are still barely old enough to drink, let alone lead an NBA team. But they got some great veteran additions in the Self-Made Superstar Jimmy Butler and Old School Taj Gibson. This team needs to be higher on WCS writer Len Nunes’ Watch-ability List.
Record: 45-37 (8th) Portland Trail Blazers - Is Damian Lillard STILL underrated? I’d take him over Kyle Lowry. He and C.J. McCollum are both capable of dominating games with their scoring. A full season of Jusuf Nurkic will be enough for the Trail Blazers to snag the final postseason spot.
Record: 44-36 (9th) New Orleans Pelicans - You know how the NFL has gone to an almost all passing league, where the ball is thrown about 70% of the time and running has almost become passe. The New Orleans Pelicans still feel like one of those old NFL teams that prefers the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust style. “Let’s roll out 2 big men and see what happens!” This go-against-the-grain is just crazy enough to maybe work…but it won’t. New Orleans will fall just short, and Alvin Gentry will be out of a job. I can’t blame N.O. for trying; they did fleece Sacramento on that Boogie trade.
Record: 42-40 (10th) Utah Jazz - with Gordon Hayward‘s exit, it’s almost a sure that bet this team will miss the playoffs right? Don’t discount the squad; with a solid coach in Quin Snyder, and some good young talent (Hello Stifle Tower!), this team will still give other squads in the west a major headache when it comes time to face the music (that’s a Jazz pun).
Thanks For Coming Out
Record: 34-48 (11th) Dallas Mavericks - this has to be Dirk’s last season, right? He has aged gracefully for such a 7-footer, but with his production waning as every year goes on, it’s only a matter of time before he decides to hang it up. Egad… they’re going to hand the reins to Harrison Barnes?
Record: 32-50 (12th) Phoenix Suns - Devin Booker and….. What else do they have? This team feels like it’s mired in mediocrity, as it continues to hover around the 10 spot. With changes to the draft lottery, and more teams having an opportunity to grab the number one overall spot, this may be the best way to add a 2nd great player alongside young Booker.
Record: 30-52 (13th) Memphis Grizzlies - Goodbye Grit and Grind. It was a solid run it terms of this franchise’s success, but the reality is they were never going anywhere past where they were with the talent they had. Best to blow it up and try again. Marc Gasol will be moved by the trade deadline.
Record: 26-56 (14th) LA Lakers - BBB! The Big Baller Brand is set to take over The Staples Center. Get ready as the Lonzo Show dominates social media and Sportscenter highlight packs. Let’s hope Brandon Ingram finally gets over 200lbs. Free agency 2018 will make LA respectable again.
Record: 22-60 (15th) Sacramento Kings - Only in Sacramento do you reward ineptitude by signing your executive team through 2020. I understand trying to establish consistency in the front office, but I don’t think these are the horses you ride. Oh Vlade…..
October 17th, it all begins. Last year’s regular-season was a bit of a bore, but this year’s season looks to be a fantastic marathon all the way to the playoffs.