WESTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW: PART TWO

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn NetsFor the past several weeks, we’ve been looking at how teams in the NBA finished up last year to try and get an understanding of what to expect from them this season.

This week wraps up this “preview” right as we start to see the identities of teams really come together. That being said, let’s see which teams in the West missed the playoffs last year and try to see which of them may have a chance of sneaking in.

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Phoenix Suns
48-34

Always worth perspective: with this record, the Suns would have been pushing Toronto and Chicago for the 3rd and 4th spots in the East. Yet somehow in the West, they don’t even make the playoffs. Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic are making splashes as a really talented backcourt duo. The Morris twins were reunited last season and took that time to reconnect as a formidable duo. Not to be outdone, the Suns also signed Goran’s brother, Zoran, though he has yet to see much of the court. The problem with the Suns is that they are creating a logjam in the backcourt and not addressing their lack of depth on the wing or in the post. Youngsters Archie Goodwin and Tyler Ennis could develop nicely under Bledsoe and Dragic, but there is also the “problem” of having the vastly underrated Isaiah Thomas on the roster now. At his best, Thomas puts up a Kyrie Irving level PER. This depth issue becomes paramount, however, if they ever need to rely on anyone other than Gerald Green or Miles Plumlee, because right now, Alex Len is not where they want him to be. That being said, pencil Phoenix in to steal a Playoff spot this season.

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Minnesota Timberwolves
40-42

The first West team to sport a losing record is also one of the more intriguing West teams to examine. The T-Wolves realized that even with All-Star Kevin Love, they didn’t have the tools to push anyone in their conference out of the post-season. Thus, they moved him for the exciting Andrew Wiggins and the enigmatic Anthony Bennett. Add in the rest of the youth infusion, such as Gorgui Dieng, Shabazz Muhammad, Glenn Robinson III, and the super athletic Zach LaVine, and Minnesota turns into a team with a huge potential. Keep in mind that they still have Nikola Pekovic, the scariest man in the NBA, holding it down in the post, and a solid veteran center is key to building a successful team. The T-Wolves have start off slow this season, as to be expected from a team that is rebuilding off of the draft, but if this all pans out for them, you could see a bit of an OKC-style program (though likely not with that level of success) happen in a few years. It will take at least a year, though, so unless something surprising happens, it’s not likely they sneak into the Playoffs this year.

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Denver Nuggets
36-46

Perhaps the Nuggets lack of a “star player” that we’ve heard so much about over the past few years has caught up with them. Or maybe that overplayed point is overlooking the fact that they are losing the good core that they were built around a few years back. There’s a potential there in the post, because between JJ Hickson, Kenneth Faried, and JaVale McGee, they have one of the more athletic frontcourts available. Granted, McGee never learned to rebound properly, which limits how useful he actually is. Gallinari and Chandler reached their ceiling in a harsh fashion, which puts even more pressure on the guards. Thankfully for them, they have pretty good guards in Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, and Nate Robinson, even if Afflalo gets more credit than he really deserves. Sadly, if the key to their success hinges upon the guards, and Lawson is the only guard who brings consistency, then unless Gary Harris and Erick Green work miracles, the Nuggets will struggle again this year to come close to a winning record.

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New Orleans Pelicans
34-48

You want a bold NBA prediction? The Pelicans will make the Playoffs. Anthony Davis is rapidly becoming one of the best players in the NBA, not just one of the best young players in the NBA. This means there is much less reliance on Tyreke Evans, who finds new ways each year to regress. That lower reliance allows Evans to play freely, which means we could see a return to form for him. Ryan Anderson continues to quietly be a really good low post scorer, and there’s added young depth with Jeff Whithey and one of the best college players of the past several years, Patric Young. The only question is whether those two will have chances to contribute (the addition of Omer Asik means they still rely on the veterans in the post). Austin Rivers is starting to be a solid rotation guard, which is good because Eric Gordon is struggling. The starters in New Orleans know that if they struggle, there is youth potential to step up and help out. With a core of Davis, Jrue Holiday, Anderson, and Evans, though, the Pelicans have become a team that should scare some of the perennial Playoff contenders in the West.

Sacramento Kings

Sacramento Kings
28-54

When Demarcus Cousins wants to, he can change a game. Actually, he changes games pretty much whether he wants to or not, but when he’s motivated, he’s enough of a game changer to have a positive impact. Any major success the Kings has last season, though, also relied a lot on Isaiah Thomas, who is now gone. They hope to have set their guard lineup for the future now, with Ben McLemore, Ray McCallum, Nik Stauskas, and anchored with the veterans Ramon Sessions and Darren Collison. However, Rudy Gay is still counted upon to be a fierce scorer for them, which isn’t a great sign at this point in his career, and they still have a bit of a mess to figure out in the post. Unless something amazing happens, Derrick Williams is firmly a bust at this point, and it’s sad to see. The Kings are probably the biggest boom-or-bust team in this group, and it’s looking a lot like they will bust. However, in all likelihood, they’ll be looking at putting together close to a .500 season if their heads are screwed on straight. Not likely better than that, though.

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Los Angeles Lakers
27-55

There’s not a lot to say about the Lakers beyond what is said in this Deadspin article about Kobe Bryant. The short version? Kobe causes the end of nearly 40% of the Lakers possessions. The kid you were hoping to be an instant post contributer, Julius Randle, is gone. Jordan Hill is making $9,000,000 to bring in 14 points and 9 rebounds. Are they good numbers? Yes. Are they going to make up for the fact that 40% of their possession end with Kobe? No. Sorry, LA.

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Utah Jazz
25-57

The Jazz really can’t do any worse than last season, but their success is banking on a lot of unknowns. Is Enes Kanter the franchise center he is supposed to be? Can he be upstaged by Rudy Gobert, and what is Gobert’s ceiling? Is Derrick Favors finally producing like he should? And what will happen between Burke, Burks, and Exum? Best case scenario for the Jazz involves Gordon Hayward continuing to do all the things he is currently doing so very, very well, and the post players finally being consistently good. If the three of Hayward, Kanter, and Favors can produce, then Utah is looking at getting closer to .500. If Burke, Burks, and Exum can provide an extra punch, though? Utah could have the talent, albeit really unproven talent, that could sneak into a Playoff spot. New Orleans and Phoenix have the better chances to make it for sure, but Utah likely has a better chance than Sacramento, LA, Denver, or even Minnesota.

But it’s a long season, so let’s just sit back and enjoy the ride.

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