NBA Western Conference Preview and Predictions
This seasons Western Conference is going to be quite different from what we saw last year. The Clippers, Nuggets, and Pelicans will be getting star players back which will hopefully lead to a season of rejuvenation. The Timberwolves and Mavericks brought in some talented big men to shore up their frontcourt. There’s also the other side of the coin with teams like the Grizzlies who will be missing one of their key pieces, Jaren Jackson Jr., who will be out for the first few months of the season. Nonetheless, every team in the playoff race will have one goal: dethrone the Warriors. Let’s see how the teams in the Western Conference stack up.
**RP = Record Prediction**
Tier 1: Race for the 1st spot
1 — Golden State Warriors→ RP: 55 - 27
2 — Denver Nuggets→ RP: 54 - 28
3 — Los Angeles Clippers→ RP: 52 - 30
The 2 teams with the best shot to challenge the Warriors this season are the Nuggets and Clippers. The Nuggets will be getting back both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. to join 2 time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. The last time we saw a healthy nuggets team, post the Aaron Gordon trade, they went 7 - 1 with comfortable wins against teams like the Hawks, Clippers, and 76ers. Yes, I am aware that this is a tiny sample size and may end up not meaning a whole lot. But, this is a team that had championship aspirations before Jamal Murray tore his ACL and I expect them to pick up where they left off. They managed to win 48 games last year with just Jokic at the helm so with Murray and MPJ coming back, they should have no issue eclipsing the 50 win mark. Moving on to the Clippers, I probably don’t even have to say much. This team most likely would have made the finals 2 seasons ago had Kawhi Leonard not gotten hurt in the Playoffs. Will they load manage throughout the season? Yes. But, with the pieces they’ve gathered around their stars, they’ll definitely remain in the hunt for a top seed. Finally, the 2022 NBA Champs, the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors are going into a season with a completely healthy squad for the first time in 4 years. Coming off a Championship which honestly could have gone the other way a few times, they are going to be ready to burst out of the gates and I believe they will maintain the top spot in the West throughout the season.
Tier 2: Will take a step back but not completely out of the mix
4 — Phoenix Suns→ RP: 52 - 30
5 — Dallas Mavericks→ RP: 50 - 32
6 — Memphis Grizzlies→ RP: 49 - 33
Fans of these teams may not agree with what I have to say but I do think the Mavericks, Grizzlies, and Suns will take a step back both in the standings but also in terms of playoff success. In addition to seeing the Suns get humiliated on their way out of the playoffs, the aspect that concerned me even more was Chris Paul’s performances in games 3 - 7. Paul, who has arguably been the biggest reason the Suns have enjoyed so much success over the past 2 seasons, averaged 9 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds in the last 5 games of the series. This was a stark difference from the 23 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds he was averaging through the first 8 games of the playoffs. If Chris Paul is on the decline, the Suns will be forced to rest him a lot more during the regular season and that will definitely have a massive impact on the win column. Moving on to the Grizzlies, everyone expected them to be good last season but to have the 2nd best record in the NBA may have come as a little shocking. But to be honest, their success last season did not seem flukey at all. There have been teams in the past that have 1 amazing season and then fall back into mediocrity *2014 - 2015 Atlanta Hawks*. While I don’t believe this will be the case for the Grizzlies, I do think they will take a small step back due to the injury to Jaren Jackson Jr. Jackson Jr. played in 78 games during their 56-win season last year but it’s looking like he may miss the first 2 months of this season which may equate to about 30 games. This injury may put a damper on any hopes the Grizzlies had to be a top 4 seed once again. Lastly, over to another team that achieved more than expected, the Western Conference finalist Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks didn’t have too much roster movement this offseason. They were able to somewhat make up for losing Jalen Brunson by adding talented big man Christian Wood. However, with the landscape in the west only getting more difficult, I think this young team is still a few years away from seriously contending to make the finals.
Tier 3: Some teams have a bright future, others not so much
7 — Minnesota Timberwolves→ RP: 48 - 34
8 — Los Angeles Lakers→ RP: 46 - 36
9 — New Orleans Pelicans→ RP: 45 - 37
This is probably one of the more confusing tiers in the Western Conference with 3 teams with different outlooks for the future. There is the Lakers with their aging roster looking for one last chance to contend for a championship. There is the Timberwolves who are coming off making one of the largest overpays in NBA history to get Rudy Gobert which kind of puts them in win-now mode. Finally, there is the Pelicans who had an amazing playoff performance and with Zion coming back, the trend seems to only be pointing upwards. All three of these teams will most likely battle it out in the play-in tournament which is going to make the race for the 7th and 8th seeds even more crucial.
Tier 4: Play-In would be an achievement
10 — Portland Trailblazers→ RP: 35 - 47
11 — Sacramento Kings→ RP: 33 - 49
Similar to tier 5 in my Eastern Conference preview, this is the tier in the West that disappoints me the most. The Portland Trailblazers have had one of the best players in the league for 8 of the last 9 years but have only been able to get past the 2nd round in the playoffs once. I understand that they’ve had to go up against the Warriors, a James Harden led Rockets team, and even the Spurs at the end of their run. But, that does not take away from the reality that the organization has not done nearly enough to surround Damian Lillard with players that can help him contend. Portland made the playoffs 8 years in a row before last season and it’s looking like they’re on the downward trend and may not see the post-season again for some time. Moving on to the Kings, who have quite honestly been the laughingstock of the league for some time now. They hold the unattractive record of the longest current playoff drought (16 seasons without making the playoffs) and they really haven’t been very close any of those years. The Kings definitely have a lot of young talent but unfortunately for those players, I don’t know how much is really going to come out of it.
Tier 5: Not the worst but not really that good either
12 — Houston Rockets→ RP: 26 - 56
The Houston Rockets are in a tier of their own because they aren’t really good enough to reach the play-in but their also not bad enough to fight for the 1st pick. The primary goal for the Rockets this season should be to develop guys like Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, and Jabari Smith Jr. as much as possible. These are 3 players who have star attributes and the potential to reach that level one day.
Tier 6: The fight for Wembanyama
13 — San Antonio Spurs→ RP: 23 - 59
14 —Utah Jazz→ RP: 22 - 60
15 — Oklahoma City Thunder→ RP: 19 - 63
Finally, the Wembanyama sweepstakes. The Spurs and Jazz are in this conversation after deciding to trade away their best players this past summer. The Thunder would have probably been in this tier regardless but the devastating injury to Chet Holmgren certainly does not help. I am quite confident these teams will not be fighting to win games, rather we are going to see a lot of nights where guys like Keldon Johnson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will be “rested”. Wembanyama seems like a generational talent who can turn a franchise around, so it will be interesting to see who can lose enough games to get him.
If you have read this far, thank you so much. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions about anything I wrote, I would love to hear them. Stay tuned for another article in a couple weeks!
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