September is upon us. We are almost a month away until the NBA regular season begins. This season looks to be a good one with quite a few top players wearing new jerseys next season. There are a few cuts and additions to make (and an impending decision on Knicks’ Carmelo Anthony that may impact teams like the Houston Rockets) that likely will not move the needle for teams that much. With that being said, here are predictions for the Western Conference on where I believe, seeding wise, the teams will finish.
** Stats come from ESPN.com **
#15 – Phoenix Suns (Last Year’s Seeding: #15)
Not much has changed for the Phoenix Suns’ roster since last year when they finished dead last in the Western Conference. Devin Booker is arguably the best and most important player on the roster. Guard Eric Bledsoe is a name that has been brought up in trade rumors, most recently in a trade for Kyrie Irving before the Celtics and the Cavaliers finalized their trade. It is quite likely that Eric Bledsoe will be traded sometime this season. Another larger name for the Suns, Brandon Knight, will likely miss the entire upcoming season due to an ACL injury. With Earl Watson leading the way for his Sophomore season as head coach, this will likely be a season to play the young guys and allow them to develop more. Booker will be looked upon to carry the load this coming season. Their fourth overall pick Josh Jackson has high expectations and put up good numbers in Las Vegas’s Summer League, averaging 17.4ppg, 9.2rpg, 1.2spg, and 1.0bpg in 35.0mpg over a 5 game span. After getting their rookie campaign out of the way, the Suns are hoping for a 2nd year improvement from Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. T.J. Warren is another name to keep an eye out for as he enters his 4th year in the league. His three point percentage took a dive last year but his stats improved across the board. The season may not be too pretty to watch record wise but Booker is a large reason to garnish interest in the Suns this coming season.
#14 – Sacramento Kings (Last Year’s Seeding: #12)
G George Hill, G Vince Carter, and F Zach Randolph are all experienced veterans brought in to contribute to the growth and development of the young players on this roster but that’s not to say they still cannot contribute statistically wise. Randolph though was involved with some legal troubles as he was recently charged with 2 misdemeanors following a weed arrest in Los Angeles, according to TMZ. In this year’s draft, De’Aaron Fox was drafted 5th overall, Justin Jackson was drafted 15th overall, Harry Giles was drafted 20th overall, and Frank Mason III was drafted 34th overall. Guys like Willie Cauley-Stein is entering his 3rd season, Buddy Hield is entering his 2nd season, and Skal Labissiere is entering his 2nd season so there are plenty of young guys on this roster still trying to learn the NBA so wins are going to be hard to come by.
#13 – Dallas Mavericks (Last Year’s Seeding: #11)
The Dallas Mavericks best player is a 39 year old Dirk Nowitzki. That is not meant to be knock against Nowitzki at all but this coming season will be a tough one for him and the Mavericks. Nowitzki signed for two years in his most recent extension, likely his two final seasons. The playoffs are not a realistic goal for this coming season but getting a lottery pick should be a more realistic goal. Youth infusion is needed for this Mavericks squad. The Mavs 9th overall pick this past draft, Dennis Smith Jr., averaged 17.3ppg, 4.8rpg, 4.2apg, and 2.2spg in 25.8 minutes of play over a course of 6 games in Las Vegas’s Summer League. The team should look to gauge the trade interest in a veteran like Wesley Matthews as he should not be apart of the Mavericks future. Winning is not something feasible for this team and their record will show it.
#12 – Los Angeles Lakers (Last Year’s Seeding: #14)
The Lakers rid themselves of Timofey Mozgov’s horrible contract which was a tremendous move for the Lakers alone but taking on Brook Lopez, whom averaged 20.5ppg, 5.4rpg, and 1.7bpg will only make the team more competitive. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gambled this offseason for a high level contract and it did not pay off so Pope will play for the Lakers on a one year contract after averaging a healthy 13.8ppg, 3.3rpg, and 2.5apg for the Detroit Pistons the previous season. Young guys like Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram with another year of improvement make this squad an interesting one to keep an eye out for under the tutelage of Luke Walton. The addition of #2 overall pick Lonzo Ball, who averaged 16.3ppg, 9.3apg, 7.7rpg, and 2.5spg in 32.5mpg in Las Vegas’s Summer League will help facilitate the ball to his teammates. He will have a lot of learning and growth to do in his rookie season. The Lakers are not a playoff team quite yet but they are interesting young basketball team generating fan interest.
#11 – New Orleans Pelicans (Last Year’s Seeding: #10)
The New Orleans Pelicans made a big splash last season by acquiring big man DeMarcus Cousins last season from the Sacramento Kings to pair with All-Star Anthony Davis. The jury has not decided whether Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins can play alongside each other but it would be unfair to assess the situation right now due to the fact that they have not had much time together yet. An offseason of being on the same team and being able to start the season together will only benefit their growth together and only then will we be able to give a fair answer on whether they can coexist. The Pelicans free agent splash was signing Rajon Rondo who last played for the Chicago Bulls. Other than that, the roster has not improved all too much. Looking at the Pelicans current roster, the words “playoff team” is not something that comes to mind. With players like Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday on the roster, this team can be competitive on a nightly basis but winning games look to be a problem for this team.
#10 – Memphis Grizzlies (Last Year’s Seeding: #7)
Fringe playoff team one year; no playoffs the next. The Memphis Grizzlies roster does not look like a competitive one. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are the leaders of this team and they are going to represent what the Memphis Grizzlies are with Gasol averaging 19.5ppg, 6.3rpg, 4.6apg, and 1.3bpg and Conley averaging 20.5ppg, 6.3apg, 3.5rpg, and 1.3spg last year. Chandler Parsons has a huge question mark next to his name as he was only able to play in 34 games for the Grizzlies last year. His problems to stay healthy recently are certainly raising eye brows in the Grizzlies organization. The signing of Tyreke Evans is a solid signing, but not one that will push the Grizzlies back to the playoffs. After those four players, there is a drop off in the rest of the roster. The Grizzlies have been in the playoffs every year since the 2010-2011 season and that streak looks like it will be broken this coming year.
#9 Portland Trail Blazers (Last Year’s Seeding: #8)
The Portland Trail Blazers finished at .500% at 41-41 with the Nuggets right behind at 40-42. The Blazers though did not make moves to improve the roster and this time Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will not be enough to drag the Blazers to the playoffs barring any major moves (Melo to the Blazers?). Last year, Lillard averaged 27.0ppg, 5.9apg, and 4.9rpg and McCollum averaged 23.0ppg, 3.6apg, and 3.6rpg in the regular season. The third best player for the Blazers is arguably Evan Turner who averaged 9.0ppg, 3.8rpg, and 3.2apg in the regular season. That will not get it done this year and the Blazers will likely fall out of the playoffs all together.
#8 Denver Nuggets (Last Year’s Seeding: #9)
Just like previously written under the Blazers section, the Nuggets finished 40-42 and were sitting just outside of the NBA playoffs. This year though they look poised to join it. The 41st pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Nikola Jokic, played like the MVP of the Denver Nuggets this past season averaging 16.7ppg, 9.8rpg, and 4.9apg. Danilo Gallinari is no longer apart of the team but veterans like Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler are still present on this roster that will help make the Nuggets more competitive. Faried might still be a trade chip this coming season so it will be interesting to see what kind of haul they can get for him. An offseason of development for young guys like Emmanuel Mudiay, Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray may help refine their skills for the upcoming season. Also, the addition of Paul Millsap, whom last played for the Atlanta Hawks, should help immensely in the Nuggets fight for the playoffs. Having a player like Millsap that averaged 18.1ppg, 7.7rpg, 3.7apg, and 1.3spg in the regular season and 24.3ppg, 9.3rpg, 4.3apg, and 1.7spg in six games of postseason play is going to greatly improve the roster. This veteran play is going to make this Nuggets squad more competitive and a likely playoff bound team.
#7 Utah Jazz (Last Year’s Seeding: #5)
The temptation to put the Jazz lower than the Nuggets on this list was strong but it was one that was, ultimately, not given into. The loss of Gordon Hayward is going to be felt but it is not one that should throw them out of the playoffs. This roster for next season still looks to be a solid one. The point guard duo of young and experience is a solid one in Dante Exum and Ricky Rubio. Alec Burks and Rodney Hood are a good duo for the shooting guard position. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are arguably the two best players on this roster and the Jazz will look for them to step up their game to make up for some of the loss that will be felt from Gordon Hayward’s departure. Even at the age of 36, Joe Johnson was a key player for the Utah Jazz in the playoffs last season. Joe Ingles and recently signed Thabo Sefolosha are solid forwards for this team. The Jazz should still look to have a solid season next season with making the playoffs but will likely be knocked out of the first round.
#6 Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Year’s Seeding: #13)
The Wolves are poised to make a jump from next year. Expectations for this team have increased after this season for good reason. Andrew Wiggins was handed a huge contract extension and now needs to help make this team more competitive to show that he deserves that contract. Wiggins averaged 23.6ppg, 4.0rpg, 2.3apg, and 1.0spg last season. Karl-Anthony Towns is arguably the face of this franchise. He averaged 25.1ppg, 12.3rpg, 2.7apg, and 1.3bpg. The Wolves made huge splashes this offseason with the biggest being the acquisition of Jimmy Butler from the Chicago Bulls after averaging 23.9ppg, 6.2rpg, 5.5apg, and 1.9spg last season. The Wolves replaced Ricky Rubio with Jeff Teague (15.3ppg, 7.8apg, 4.0rpg, and 1.2spg) and added veterans Taj Gibson (10.8ppg and 6.2rpg) and Jamal Crawford (12.3ppg and 2.6apg). The Wolves are making fans of the Wolves and the NBA excited for next season.
#5 Oklahoma City Thunder (Last Year’s Seeding: #6)
Russell Westbrook had an absolutely spectacular season for the Thunder this past season and was well deserving of the Most Valuable Player Award. The Thunder sat at #6 this past season with Victor Oladipo/Steven Adams arguably being the next best player on the team. The supporting cast for the Thunder lacked which makes Westbrook’s 31.6ppg, 10.7rpg, 10.4apg, and 1.6spg even more impressive. With the addition of Paul George to help take the load off of Russell Westbrook is a major splash and the fact that Victor Oladipo and Domantis Sabonis are the only pieces that were needed to add someone of George’s caliber was a steal. George averaged 23.7ppg, 6.6rpg, 3.3apg, and 1.6spg last season for the Indiana Pacers. Westbrook and George are a scary 1-2 combination and George will certainly help alleviate the pressure Westbrook had on his shoulders. Enes Kanter, Steven Adams, and the addition of a stretch four in Patrick Patterson helps bolster the front court. The depth of the bench still leaves a lot to be desired but the Thunder have enough to take the #5 spot in the playoffs this coming season.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers (Last Year’s Seeding: #4)
The loss of Chris Paul is going to be huge but the Clippers did get a good haul back from the Houston Rockets in Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, a 2018 protected first round pick, and cash considerations (NBA.com). Blake Griffin, when healthy, is the best player on this roster. Griffin averaged 21.6ppg, 8.1rpg and 4.9apg but health is a big question mark for Griffin. DeAndre Jordan is still apart of this roster who might be hurt some without Chris Paul getting him the ball in opportunities to score. To fill Chris Paul’s void, the Clippers have Beverley, Milos Teodosic (signed from overseas), and Austin Rivers. You can’t completely replace Paul but the point guard depth of this team can help alleviate the hurt left behind from Paul’s departure. To replace Jamal Crawford’s departure, the Clippers have Lou Williams, a younger Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Danilo Gallinari was signed this offseason after averaging 18.2ppg, 5.2rpg, and 2.1apg for the Denver Nuggets last season. He will help take the offensive pressure off of Blake Griffin. The loss of Paul does not spell doom for the Clippers as they still have enough on the roster to be a strong team in the Western Conference.
#3 San Antonio Spurs (Last Year’s Seeding: #2)
Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Rudy Gay need to be the key guys for the San Antonio Spurs to have a successful season. Leonard is the face of the franchise and his stats show it. Leonard averaged 25.5ppg, 5.8rpg, 3.5apg, and 1.8spg and was having a successful postseason until the controversial injury he received against the Golden State Warriors helped seal the Spurs fate. The Spurs sure hope that Aldridge’s confidence is not completely shot after the dreadful postseason he had. Gay was signed this offseason after playing for the Sacramento Kings and averaged 18.7ppg, 6.3rpg, and 1.5spg last season. The Spurs will need Gay to buy into the Spurs organization and the role Gregg Popovich will lay out for him to be his most effective. Gay has been labeled as a guy that has the stats but does not actually improve the team. The Spurs are officially old. Tony Parker is being effected by injuries due to father time, and Manu Ginobili is 40 years old. Guys like Patty Mills and Kyle Anderson are going to be needed to bring energy to this Spurs team. If Dejounte Murray and/or Bryn Forbes can help Mills and Anderson bring depth to this squad, the Spurs would not complain. With Popovich at the helm, this team will have a strong regular season.
#2 Houston Rockets (Last Year’s Seeding: #3)
The Rockets have added Chris Paul to the roster and are hoping that they are not done yet making moves. Paul and James Harden have been working a lot together this offseason to blend well for the upcoming season. The Rockets still contain players like Eric Gordon (Sixth Man of the Year in 2016-2017), Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, and Nene. The Rockets have also signed veterans like Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker as well to bolster their depth. That is not it though. Carmelo Anthony wants to go to the Houston Rockets. That is his number one team that he wants to go too. A trio of Chris Paul, James Harden, and Carmelo Anthony can be a dangerous one for teams to deal with. Even without Melo, the Rockets should still have enough to finish #2 in the tough Western Conference.
#1 Golden State Warriors (Last Year’s Seeding: #1)
This should not be too much of a surprise. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson are enough firepower to carry the Warriors back to a #1 seed in the Western Conference. Steve Kerr gets the bench to buy into the roles that the Warriors need from them. Andre Iguodala buys in, which is why he resigned this offseason. Shaun Livingston still mans the backup point guard role. Javale McGee was resigned and is putting in work this offseason. David West is still looking to contribute to help win another title. Veterans Omri Casspi and Nick Young were signed in this offseason to increase the depth of the Warriors. It’s 99.99% inevitable that the Warriors will finish #1.