The Western Conference is stacked, with several teams capable of winning the title. How does Crucial Baskets think the standings will unfold?
The NBA’s Western Conference has long been a relentless battleground. On this side of the league map, you cannot simply be a “good” team and expect to advance in the playoffs.
Even with that being the case, the Golden State Warriors have spent the past half-decade a class above the rest, leaving the rest to fight for the remaining seven playoff slots. But Klay Thompson‘s ACL tear and the departure of Kevin Durant in free agency have pulled the Dubs back into the fray. Now, no playoff seed is a foregone conclusion.
How will things work out in the West? That’s a tough question to answer, but I’m going to give it a shot anyway! Here are my predictions for how the teams will rank in the final regular season standings. Do you agree with my picks? Let me know in the comments!
15. Memphis Grizzlies
Being last in the West isn’t great, but the Grizzlies won’t have much to hang their head about by season’s end. Memphis has a young roster led by a first-time head coach. Taylor Jenkins seems like a smart guy, and Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are great foundational pieces to have for a rebuilding team. But you have to start somewhere, and there will be plenty of growing pains along the way.
14. Phoenix Suns
The Suns could only muster 19 wins (worst in the West) during the 2018-19 season. There’s no place to go but up in 2020. A few positive changes were made, such as signing a real-life point guard (Ricky Rubio) and hiring an experienced head coach (Monty Williams). There are some solid pieces in place for the future, but they’re going to need time to gel. Here’s hoping owner Robert Sarver doesn’t get in his own way again and botch this timeline.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder
General manager Sam Presti is starting a new era in Oklahoma City, and the first step on the path back to championship contention is going to be a doozy. Chris Paul (for however long he’s on the team) will be a steady presence as a mentor and the primary playmaker. Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will also have impressive campaigns. Unfortunately, outside of that trio, it’s hard to see where else any consistent offense is going to come from. Sadly, this won’t be the brand of playoff-caliber basketball Thunder fans have been accustomed to.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves
After a 2018-19 season that started with a lot of drama, the Timberwolves look a little more stabilized entering 2019-20. Karl-Anthony Towns should be in line for another strong season while the presence of Josh Okogie and Jarrett Culver will force Andrew Wiggins to show and prove this year or get benched. This season will see the T’Wolves re-laying a foundation for playoff contention in the years ahead.
11. Dallas Mavericks
The duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis is going to be so much fun to watch this season. Doncic will continue to exhibit his abilities as a playmaking extraordinaire. Meanwhile, Porzingis will be a matchup nightmare as a 7’3″ big that can score anywhere and in anyway on the floor. However, the supporting cast hasn’t rounded out yet to the point that they can help this duo push for the playoffs. The Dallas Mavericks will have plenty of great moments this year, but they haven’t turned the corner yet.
10. New Orleans Pelicans
I’m not going to lie, I’m just here for Zion Williamson. He is going to bowl his way through the competition and ultimately show that any concerns about him where just bouts of overthinking the obvious. Several players around him are also pretty good. With the spotlight now on this Pelicans franchise, people will finally recognize Jrue Holiday for the talented two-way combo guard he is, while Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball will rise to the occasion in bigger roles. Unfortunately, I foresee them being crowded out of the playoffs by more experienced teams. But the foundation is definitely in place in NOLA.
9. Sacramento Kings
The Kings just missed out on the postseason last year. But between the growth of their young core and a few acquisitions that bolstered their bench, this team is in position to make another run. What I think will hold this team back will be the fact that they play in the Pacific Division. While taking on the Lakers, Clippers, and Warriors four times each will build character for the future, some of their inevitable losses will add up once the season is complete. This team is will break their league-leading playoff drought very soon, but not yet.
8. San Antonio Spurs
Gregg Popovich has chosen to turn back the clock with how his Spurs play, choosing to have his team work out of the post instead of relying on the 3-point shot. Modern thinking would consider that a recipe for disaster, but it helped the Spurs clinch the seventh seed and take the Nuggets to seven games in the first round. I expect San Antonio to somehow make it work again, partly because they play in an easier division than the Kings. But more importantly, it’s because you never doubt a Popovich team. Their style may not be conventional, but they have the players in place to make it work for them.
7. Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard consistent shows us that he is simply on another level as a player. Backcourt mate CJ McCollum joins him to form one of the league’s most dynamic duos. That alone is enough to get the Blazers into the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. The players around them, however, are the real questions. Almost the entire roster is filled with boom-or-bust propositions. If any of them rise to their potential, Portland will far exceed this prediction. But I’m going to go the safe route here in this article.
6. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are starting a new chapter in their franchise’s story. A lot has changed over the summer, including their home arena. But the Big Three of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green is still intact. The catch is Thompson will be out for most — if not all — of the season, which will put Curry and Green in the tough position of keeping the team afloat. Bringing in D’Angelo Russell and Willie Cauley-Stein will help, but the cadre of young wings and floor-stretchers that make up the bench won’t bring the same depth that vets like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston did in past years.
5. Houston Rockets
A lot of people are concerned about Russell Westbrook and his ability to be on the floor at the same time as James Harden. But I feel like having him on a team that looks to shoot a lot of 3-pointers will be a huge benefit for him. Now he’s creating with more space than he had in OKC, where his teammates were plenty athletic, but weren’t as reliable from outside. The Rockets also stocked their bench with reliable veterans late in the summer. That should help with this team’s collective mettle over the course of the season, but it also leaves me concerned with how consistent they will be on the defensive end.
4. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz came into the summer displeased with their forgettable gentlemen’s sweep in the first round at the hands of the Houston Rockets. As a result, they made some solid moves in the offseason, bringing in Mike Conley to run the point, Bojan Bogdanovic to help on the perimeter, and Jeff Green and Ed Davis to pitch in up front. These additions will help to open up the offense for this defensive-minded team. That could be enough to help the Jazz earn homecourt advantage this year.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
The arrival of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is the biggest thing to ever happen to this franchise, and I truly think this duo will deliver big once the playoffs roll around. However, I think that load management for Leonard and George throughout the year will keep this team from finishing higher in the standings. Nevertheless, the Clippers are a strong-willed team, so even if they have to go some games without their new stars, they will still compete hard enough on a nightly basis to secure homecourt advantage in the first round.
2. Denver Nuggets
Last season was not a fluke: the Denver Nuggets are really that good. If you don’t believe them, I think they will be more than happy to prove it to you again. The rotation from last year’s playoff run — led by playmaking center Nikola Jokic and dynamic shot creator Jamal Murray — is now joined by talented stretch four Jerami Grant and the long-awaited arrival of rookie Michael Porter Jr. This team has depth and something to prove, and I think that will be enough to propel them to second in the Western Conference.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The normal rule of thumb is to always go with the team that has LeBron on it. That wasn’t the case last year due to injury and team turmoil. But this year it’s safe to believe again! For one, generational talent Anthony Davis has joined the Lakers. On top of that, the roster is bolstered by the center battery of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, savvy veterans like Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo, and Jared Dudley, and talented wings such as Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma. Even when LeBron and AD sit out games due to load management, this team will be deep enough to hold their own. The spotlight will be on the Los Angeles Lakers once again, and I think they are good enough to live up to the hype.