Breaking Down the West: Top-To-Bottom NBA Western Conference Preview

Nba Preview Feature

Hoops season is back! As the 2012-13 season came and went, we saw Steph Curry become a star and the Spurs prove once again that nothing beats experience and leadership by nearly knocking off the Heat in the finals. The 2013-14 NBA season is going to be intense in the western conference. There are 5 teams that have a legit chance to contend for conference supremacy. Below I break down the contenders, pretenders, and the Parker/ Wiggins groupies.

What can we expect from the West this season?

Team Previews

Contenders

Los Angeles Clippers

Main Point: Doc Rivers! Lets face it the Clippers were never going to be a serious contender with Vinny Del Negro as their head coach. In his last season in Chicago the Bulls were the 8th seed with a 41-41 record and lost in the first round. The following season under Tom Thibodeau the Bulls had the best record in the Eastern Conference and reached the conference finals. I think the same exact thing happens with the Clippers this season.

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Key Additions: Doc Rivers (head coach), JJ Reddick, Jared Dudley, and Byron Mullens.  Rivers is the most important addition because he is a championship coach who knows what it takes to win. Reddick and Dudley are key additions because they are good perimeter shooters who will stretch the floor for the Clippers pick and roll offense. I know your saying why is Byron Mullens a key addition? Well the answer to that are Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf. Those were the two players who backed up Deandre Jordan last season and given his tendency to pick up cheap fouls a solid back up center was needed. Mullens has actually carved out his niche as a solid NBA big. He is a legit 7’0 with athleticism and he averaged 10.6ppg and 6.4rpg last year in Charlotte.

Key Losses: No major losses from last year team. I believe all of their moves were upgrades.

X-Factor: Winning Attitude! The reason you trade for a head coach isn’t for X’s and O’s. It is because you need a culture change in the locker room. Doc is bringing a ring and an anything less the NBA finals attitude to Best Coast.

How They Finish: 62-20

San Antonio Spurs

Main Point: The Spurs reestablished themselves as the Alpha Dog team in the Western Conference.  Nothing beats experience and leadership and that was evident throughout the playoffs last year. They have proven that they do not put a high emphasis on the regular season. The goal is to finish in top 4 and get to the playoffs and anything can happen.

Key Additions: Marco Belinelli is key because Manu Ginobili will be 36 years old at the start of the season. Marco has proven that he can score at this level and he will win San Antonio 8-10 games this season by himself.

Key Losses: Gary Neal, although he wasn’t a major factor Neal proved that he will take and make big shots. Someone off of the bench needs to fill that role. See Key Additions for the answer.

X-Factor: The continued development of Corey Joseph, Danny Green, and Kawhi Leonard. All three played valuable minutes in the finals last year and proved they could deliver in crunch time. The next step is to be more consistent and be able to relieve some of the pressure off of the old guys during the regular Season.

San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors

How they finish: 61-21

Houston Rockets

Main Point: The Rockets landed the biggest Diva in the NBA this past off-season. It just so happens that the biggest Diva is also the best all around center in the league.  That person would be Dwight Howard who lucked out because he might not be the best player on his own team. Cheers to you Jeff Harden and your playoff/regular season/ year round beard.

Key Additions: Dwight Howard, Dwight Howard, and Dwight Howard. Even though he acted like a baby last season and was plagued by back problems. He was still able to avg 17.1ppg or 12.4rpg. This team already had the roster in place to support him with a good back up center (Asik), Players who can stretch the floor (Parsons and Harden), and a pick and roll point guard in Jeremy Lin. This team is ready to win now!

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Key Losses: None! This team simply needs to live up to expectations.

X-Factor: Terrence Jones has to be the answer for them at the PF spot. Chandler Parsons is 6’10 but he is better suited as a SF in the Rashard Lewis mold. There are currently only two people on the Rockets roster listed as power forwards Jones and Greg Smith. Who? Yea that was my reaction as well. Terrence if you read this 5.5ppg and 3.4rpg isn’t going to get it done this season.

How They Finish:  58-24

Memphis Grizzlies

Main Point: The core remains intact! Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Tony Allen are the Grizzlies and they are Memphis. Each of them individually represent the hard nose working class mentality of Memphis and collectively their grit led them to the western conference finals. No one wants to face this team in the playoffs.

130514095219-052013-si-cover-mike-conley-single-image-cutKey Additions: Jamaal Franklin and Mike Miller. Franklin IMO was one of the steals of the draft. A 17ppg scorer each of his last two seasons at San Diego St, Franklin can get buckets. For a team whose bench production is lacking scoring options other than Jerryd Bayless and his ill-advised three-point shots, Franklin will immediately fill a position of need. Mike Miller was brought in because he is familiar with the organization and was a fan favorite during his first stint with the Grizz. He is also a more than adequate shooter, an area in which Tony Allen and Tayshaun struggled mightily in during the playoffs. Shooting 25 and 26 percent from three respectively.

Key Losses: Lionel Hollins built this team and knew how to get the most out of it. I place a high value on coaching and although the team has its identity and will be good. I don’t know if they can make the conference finals again without Hollins.
X-Factor:  Mike Conley, Conley took his game to another the level during the Grizzlies run to the Conference finals last season. He increased in each of the three major statistical categories  (points, assists, and rebounds) during the playoffs and arguably out played Chris Paul during their second round matchup. If he can carry that momentum from last year into this season it might be what they need to get over the hump.
How They Finish: 55-27
Golden State Warriorsnba_u_jackson1x_576Main Point: Mark Jackson proved he can coach and with his second generation NBA back court of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson surprised everyone making it to the second round.  Harrison Barnes increased is scoring avg from 9ppg during the regular season to 16ppg during the playoffs. Look for him to average about 14ppg this season and compete for the 6th man of the year award. This team is about a year way from winning the west.

Key Additions: Andre Iguodala, Jermaine O’Neal, and Marresse Speights. The acquisition of Iggy was one of the better moves of the summer. If there was one weak spot for the Warriors last year it was their inability to defend. Iguodala who has proven to be one of the elite wing defenders in the league is a great fit for their up tempo style.  He along with O’Neal and Speights will bring a much-needed toughness and defensive mentality to the Bay Area.

Key Losses: Jarrett Jack was great for the warriors last season he put up 12.9ppg, 5.6apg, and 3.1rpg during the regular season and played even better than that during the playoffs putting up 17.2ppg 4,7pg, and 4.4rpg. Given Steph Curry Jelly filled ankles a player like Jack is a big loss for this team.

X-Factor: Andrew Bogut is the key to the Warriors season. He has played a combined 44 games over the last two seasons. Therefore I’m going to set the over/under for games played this year at 45. If he can play the second half of the season and be there during the playoffs the Warriors can compete with anyone in the conference.

How They Finish: 53-29

Out of the Lottery

Oklahoma City Thunder

Main Point: Surprised to see this team here? Well hear me out here for a second. Russell Westbrook is coming of a major knee injury so his status in up in the air. In addition to that their depth has gradually depleted over the years. Looking at their roster if Westbrook misses a significant amount of time who is going to score points besides Durant? Reggie Jackson? Jeremy lamb? Ryan Gomes?

Key Transactions: Looking back on the James Harden trade two years later why did OKC make that trade? Kevin Martin is no longer on the team and while he was no James Harden he still averaged 14ppg and shot 42% from three. Now the Thunder have no third scorer and they drafted Steven Adams. It was a bad offseason in OKC it was like one of those notorious Oklahoma Tornadoes swept through their office and destroyed their roster sheet. Forcing them to scramble and fill their bench with role players.

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X-Factor: Jeremy Lamb, Lamb has to be a double-digit scorer for the Thunder. If Lamb doesn’t become at least 14ppg scorer the Harden trade looks worse and worse each year the Thunder don’t win a title.  Lamb has talent no doubt about that. He was the second best player on UCONN 2011 title team but barely played as a rookie last season

How They Finish: 49-33

Denver Nuggets

Main Point: The Nuggets are a fixture in the playoffs. They have their own unique style of fun run and gun basketball. They have depth and multiple players who can score off the bench.  Defense as always is going to be an issue for this team. Will they get enough stops to win tight games in the playoffs is the question this year.

Key Transactions: Two major transactions happened with the Nuggets organization this offseason. The most important one is replacing future hall of fame coach George Karl with first year coach Brian Shaw. Shaw known throughout the league as one of the top assistants in the game has a chip on his shoulder after being passed over for multiple jobs in the past. He finally has his own team and the light is on him to see what he can do with it. The second major transaction was the loss of Andre Iguodala. Iggy was by far the only elite defender (Javale McGee doesn’t count) on the nuggets last year and his loss was huge. The nuggets did acquire JJ Hickson and Nate Robinson both of whom are talented players but whose minutes are they going to take? Robinson shouldn’t play over Andre “The Professor” Miller or starter Ty Lawson and is JJ Hickson really better than Darrell Arthur? It is also going to be tough for them to play Hickson and Faried together because that would make them even worse defensively.

X-Factor: Javale McGee, Pierre as he likes to call himself is officially the face of the franchise. However that has more to do with his personality and the roller coaster ride of exciting-bonehead plays he has every game. 9.1ppg and 4.8rpg is not going to cut it.


How They Finish: 45-37

Minnesota Timberwolves

Kevin Love needs to be 100% for the T-Wolves this season. Lets hope he really doesnt have Uncle Drew buddy Wes Body.

Kevin Love needs to be 100% for the T-Wolves this season. Lets hope he really doesnt have Uncle Drew buddy Wes Body.

Main Point: When healthy the combination of Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love is a top 5 big man combination in the league. Keeping Ricky Rubio healthy is also a key because  he is the engine that makes the T-Wolves go.

Key Transactions: Signed Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer while also drafting Gorgui Dieng. The Kevin Martin signing was good because he instantly gives them a proven score from the SG position and his 38% career three-point shooting will spread the floor. In recent years they have lacked a poor shooter capable of spreading the floor for Rubio kick outs and Martin feels that void. Dieng and Brewer are good pick-ups because on a team whose weakness is defense both of these guys are good defensive players who will fill a position of need. Dieng is a shot blocker and Brewer is their lock down wing defender.

X-Factor: Chase Buddinger, Chase has all of the natural talent one needs to be a good player in this league. However is he ever going to reach Chandler parsons status in which he can be 15ppg 5rpg guy or is he simply going to be a career 9-10ppg. If Buddinger can improve his play to become a reliable third option behind Love and Martin then Timberwolves will be a lock for the playoffs.

How They Finish: 43-39

Welcome to the NBA Draft Lottery

 Portland Trailblazers

Why They Don’t Make It: The Trailblazers had the worst bench in the NBA in years last season. In fact it might be fair to say that they didn’t even have a bench outside of JJ Hickson. I like the sign and trade they made for Robin Lopez and Mo Williams but besides that their main bench players are Cj McCollum, Allan Crabbe, Thomas Robinson, and Myers Leonard. For those who don’t know that is two rookie guards and two second year big men who didn’t show much promise last season.

How They Finish: 41-41

Dallas Mavericks

Why They Don’t Make It: I just don’t understand the make up of this team. I think Dirk has a great year but Samuel Dalembert is your starting center! Their SG options are Vince Carter and Monta Ellis who are both volume shooters and defense liabilities. Their point guard of the future Shane Larkin tore his ACL during the offseason and is out for the season. At least Mark Cuban will be making money off of his Shark Tank Investments.

How They Finish: 40-42


New Orleans Pelicans

Why They Don’t Make It: The decision to trade #1 pick Nerlens Noel for Jrue Holiday looks brilliant now that Noel has been ruled out for the season. If Eric Gordon can get back to the level of his final season with the Clippers then the Pelicans might be a surprise team. However I don’t see that happening. Gordo is going to be a Grant Hill “what could have been” type of player. Finally if Tyreke had to apply for a job with Pelicans what position would he least as his desired occupation? I doubt Tyreke even has any idea what position he plays.

How They Finish: 38-44

Los Angeles Lakers

Why They Don’t Make It: Their bench is awful and no one has any idea when Kobe comes back. I think the Lakers finally get smart blow up the franchise and trade Pau Gasol. That move fully puts them in acquire Wiggins to carry the Laker mantle until Kobe kicks it into gear over the final 30 games of the season and ruins their chance for #1.

How They Finish: 35-47

Utah Jazz

Why They Don’t Make It: I don’t think Trey Burke is a franchise point guard. He is undersized and struggled last year in College to beat his man off the dribble without use of the high ball screen. This is evident by him shooting totals of 13-54 FGs, 1-19 3Pt during summer league and 8-30 FGs shooting during his three-preseason games. It might actually help the flow of their team with him being injured.

How They Finish: 29-43

Andrew Wiggins Lottery

Phoenix Suns

They drafted Kendall Marshall in the first round a year ago and this summer they made a trade to acquire Eric Bledsoe (scratches head). When Goran Dragic is the most proven NBA player on your Roster your going to Struggle.

How They Finish: 15-67

Sacramento Kings

I like Ben Mclemore and was hoping he would land anywhere besides Sacramento. They have three shooting guards masquerading as point guards in Thomas, Jimmer, and Marcus Thornton. However two positives D.Boogie (Demarcus Cousins) is the modern day Rasheed Wallace both in game and his ability to get his coaching staff to hate him. Secondly, the true Sacramento Queens the Maloof’s are finally out of Sac-Town

Ben Mclemore the Kings 1st round pick

Ben Mclemore the Kings 1st round pick

How They Finish: 13-69

Top 5 Offseason Moves to Pay Attention To

  1. Dwight Howard on the Rockets. Will he stop complaining and win games.
  2. Doc Rivers as the new coach of the Clippers
  3. Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans to the Pelicans
  4. Iguodala to the Golden St Warriors
  5. David Joerger replacing Lionel Hollins as head coach of the Grizzlies.

 

Surprise Player of the Year

Jrue Holiday: It’s hard to call Holiday a surprise player but I don’t think people really appreciate how good of a player this kid really is. An all-star last yea, he averaged 17.7ppg 8.0apg and 4.2pg on a team that was never really his. I believe his a true point guard that has an ability to make players better. He is going to thrive in the pick and roll with Anthony Davis and kick outs to Ryan Anderson.

Predictions: Holidayl- 16.6 PPG, 11. 3 APG, 3RPG

This Summer Jrue Holiday married US Women's National Team Soccer Player Lauren Cheney

This Summer Jrue Holiday married US Women’s National Team Soccer Player Lauren Cheney

Surprise Team of the Year

Minnesota Timberwolves: This team has the post play and point guard play capable of competing with anybody in the league. Kevin Martin is one of the sneaky good pickups of the offseason and their bench isn’t that bad. A second string of J.J Berea, Shabazz Muhammad, Derrick Williams, Rony Turiaf, and Gorgui Dieng has talent. If they can get 9-10ppg out of either Shabazz or Derrick Williams it will help offset any potential injury issues.

Playoff seeding and predictions

Los Angeles Clippers- Runner up

San Antonio Spurs- Champions

Houston Rockets- 2nd round

Memphis Grizzlies- 1st round

Golden State Warriors- 2nd round

Oklahoma City Thunder- 1st round

Denver Nuggets- 1st Round

Minnesota Timberwolves-1st Round

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