NBA Western Conference Top 3
1. Los Angeles Clippers
I hate putting them here as much as anyone. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are still a top duo in this league and they will be motivated to have a great season. Before the NBA bubble, the Clippers were looking like the team to beat, but they never put it together in the bubble. Can they put it together in the playoffs? That is a question that will be answered later, but we are looking at the regular season.
I thought they had a great offseason. Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard are both upgrades. As I am writing this, Kennard is getting a 4 year $64 million contract. They did not upgrade the point guard position, but Patrick Beverley will at least do enough to give the other teams point guards fits. They took a flyer on Nicolas Batum. He did not live up to the large contract handed out by the Hornets, but could end up being a solid rotational player and a defensive weapon in the playoffs.
This team has the talent to finish 1st in the regular season, but more importantly, will Ty Lue have the answers to get it done in the playoffs?
2. Denver Nuggets
This team is young and fun to watch. Jamal Murray showed he can be a star in this league after his performance in the NBA Bubble. Nikola Jokic has to continue to show he can take over games in the clutch, but this is a great tandem to build around. The loss of Jerami Grant will be huge in the playoffs. It takes away a small ball option and a defender who can switch 1-5.
I believe Michael Porter Jr. will take a leap this year. He needs to stay healthy, but I think he becomes a quality 3rd starter for the Nuggets this season. Playoffs are a different story. They proved they belonged last season, making the NBA Western Conference Finals after upsetting the Clippers, and they have the ability to score with anyone. The loss of Grant will hurt them in the postseason, but not as much in the regular season.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
Lebron James won his 4th NBA Championship, and Anthony Davis got his 1st. The Lakers have now tied the Boston Celtics with 17 NBA Championships. The quick turnaround to the 2021 season will be hardest on the Lakers. How many games will Lebron rest this season?
Coach Frank Vogel has a lot of depth, but in the regular season, the loss of Dwight Howard and Javale McGee will bring a different style of lineups for him to choose from. Anthony Davis prefers to play the 4 spot, so new Lakers Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol will be taking over those center roles. Danny Green was not a fan favorite among Laker fans and will be replaced by Wesley Matthews. Add in new point guard Dennis Schroder and the Lakers have improved on the offensive side of the ball, but can they continue to defend the rim on the other end?
NBA Western Conference 4-6
4. Portland Trail Blazers
The duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum may not be enough to win an NBA title, but they will always be enough to keep them in contention. The Blazers had a quiet but solid offseason. They brought in Robert Covington, a 3&D type player. More importantly, a healthy Jusef Nurkic had them playing competitive basketball in the playoffs.
I also like some of their smaller moves. They created some nostalgia by bringing back Carmelo Anthony; hopefully, he can provide a strong finish to his NBA career in Portland. Enes Kanter, another Blazer addition, is a proven big man who can score and rebound. Portland retained Rodney Hood, a proven veteran that can add scoring off the bench. Lillard and McCollum can both take over a series, but can they do it for 4 straight series?
5. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic has shown he is a star in this league, but will he get enough help this season? Kristaps Porzingis‘ season was ended in the playoffs with a torn meniscus, and he will not be available to start the season. The Mavs added Josh Richardson, who shot extremely well in the preseason. They have depth up front if Porzingus is out for a stretch of the regular season, but they really need him if they plan on making any noise in the playoffs this year.
6. Utah Jazz
The Jazz have locked up their core duo of Donavon Mitchell and Ruby Gobert for at least 4 seasons, and both players have a player option. They may have overpaid their star foreign big man, but if you are the Utah Jazz, keeping this duo together keeps you in the playoffs. Bojan Bogdanovic was out for the playoffs last season. The Jazz need him and Mike Conley to get it going to make a run in the NBA Western Conference playoffs this year. Jordan Clarkson was also resigned and will need to bring a scoring punch off the bench as they do not have much depth otherwise.
NBA Western Conference 7-9
7. Phoenix Suns
The surprise team of the bubble added Chris Paul for 2021 in hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 2010. They need a full season of Deandre Ayton and for their starters to stay healthy. The drop off in talent after their top 6 players could drop them out of the playoffs.
8. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans sneak into the playoffs with an exciting brand of basketball. The addition of Eric Bledsoe should lead to more stops this season, as they were one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year. Lonzo Ball did not reach a contract extension, but can still be their point guard of the future if he continues to improve his jump shot.
Zion Williamson is off his minutes’ restriction, and this frontcourt will be a force with the addition of Steven Adams. Clearly, they can go big, but they can also go small when Zion is at the 5. Brandon Ingram continues to rise and they’ll need him to take over games in the clutch. I like their chances with Coach Stan Van Gundy taking over, so long as he doesn’t become Coach/GM.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies were one of the biggest surprise teams last year led by rookie Ja Morant. They have a nice young duo with Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. He is coming off of a torn meniscus surgery in August, so he will not be starting the season. They have gotten away from the Grit-N-Grind era, but I do not see the playoffs coming their way this season.
Bottom of the NBA Western Conference
10. Golden State Warriors
With the injury to Klay Thompson, the Warriors are in a similar position as last year. They openly tanked last season and were rewarded with 7’1 center, James Wiseman. Stephen Curry is one of the most prolific shooters in NBA history, but will it be on hold for one more season? Draymond Green is already listed as out for the season opener, not a great start for the aging forward. Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre are on the wings and hope to be enough paired with Curry to make a run into the NBA Western Conference playoffs.
11. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs missed the NBA Western Conference playoffs for the first time since 1997 last season. Demar Derozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are in the final year of their contracts, so if they get off to a slow start, they could be on the trade block before the trade deadline. The young nucleus of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White gives hope to the Spurs’ future.
12. Sacramento Kings
De’Aaron Fox was signed to a max contract, so the Kings will continue to be exciting to watch, but will it translate to winning? I do not see it this season. They were able to sign Hassan Whiteside and extend their sharpshooting wing, Buddy Hield. They need him and Marvin Bagley Jr. to make a leap to have a chance at making the playoffs.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves are starting to accumulate pieces to build around. Karl-Anthony Towns can prove to be one of the best big men in the league. D’Angelo Russell and #1 overall pick, Anthony Edwards will be able to score, but can they defend? The team also brought home former fan favorite, Ricky Rubio. Now they just need to continue building around those young pieces.
14. Oklahoma Thunder
I will admit, I was dead wrong about this team last year. Chris Paul unexpectedly led this team to the playoffs, a perfect year for a rebuild, especially with fans not allowed in the stands. Now, however, they’re fully committed to the rebuild. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a budding star and will keep them alive in many games, but I would be shocked if they are not at the bottom of the NBA Western Conference.
At this point, Who Knows?
??? Houston Rockets
The Rockets get their own section because I will not even try to predict where they end up. James Harden could go anywhere at this point and it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Stephen Silas got his first head coaching job this offseason and immediately lost Russell Westbrook and has a disgruntled superstar on his hands in Harden. They did, however, add 2 former Kentucky Wildcats in John Wall and Demarcus Cousins. Can either stay healthy? Overall there are still enough pieces on this team to compete, but Coach Silas has his work cut out for him if Harden does not buy-in.
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