Western Conference preview: Title contender tiers

By my depend, 12 groups within the West count on to be within the playoffs (and that’s not together with the Rockets, who might imagine so internally). The mathematics there’s apparent, and it’ll depart a couple of coaches and GMs on very heat chairs because the season progresses.

The West is stacked with high quality groups, which implies barely decrease win totals than many followers count on and a tightly packed convention the place a couple of unhealthy weeks could be a enormous setback. There will likely be no off nights within the West. Let’s break down the convention into tiers based mostly on title competition. The common season standings is not going to comply with this precise order, however on the subject of a playoff push that is the place I’ve groups ranked.


Phoenix Suns

The Denver Nuggets will set the bar for the whole NBA — to win a hoop, groups must be higher than the defending champs. Denver brings again the whole beginning 5 that hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy final June, has the most effective participant on the planet (Nikola Jokic), and arguably the most effective duo within the league (Jokic and Jamal Murray). They may miss Bruce Brown. Nevertheless, the Nuggets’ contender standing shouldn’t be in query.

I struggled with whether or not the Suns are really a transparent contender, or if they need to be one degree down. There isn’t any query in regards to the top-end expertise — Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal kind an elite trio. The Suns offense goes to place up a whole lot of factors. The questions are round protection and depth, each issues the Nuggets uncovered within the playoffs — did the Suns repair these points this offseason? Phoenix goes to win a whole lot of common season video games and end within the prime three within the West. My perception (and why they’re clear contenders on this record) is that over the course of these 82 video games, they are going to discover the protection and rotations that make them a risk to win all of it.


Golden State Warriors
Los Angeles Lakers

These two groups are in a race with Father Time, however each are able to contending — if issues break their approach. Neither staff has a margin for error. For the Warriors, Stephen Curry has to stay a top-10 participant within the league in his age 36 season, Chris Paul has to elevate the Warriors second unit within the non-Curry minutes, and Klay Thompson has to get again to nearer to his pre-injury self.

The Lakers upgraded the position gamers round their stars (Taurean Prince might begin and Gabe Vincent might shut over D’Angelo Russell), plus Austin Reaves will take one other step ahead coming off his Workforce USA expertise. Nonetheless, this staff depends on two superstars with questions: LeBron James turns age 39 in December, can he nonetheless increase his recreation when wanted? Is Anthony Davis able to take over the mantle of the staff’s No. 1 choice and be a DPOY candidate? The Lakers want a sure to each of these questions.


Memphis Grizzlies
Dallas Mavericks
Sacramento Kings
Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder
Los Angeles Clippers
Minnesota Timberwolves
New Orleans Pelicans
Utah Jazz

4 of those groups is not going to make the playoffs; two is not going to make even the play-in. The mathematics shouldn’t be good for these groups and for some it may get fascinating subsequent summer time in the event that they fall quick.

Memphis is one staff on this group that might bounce to fringe contender. The Grizzlies gained 50+ video games the final two seasons, have Ja Morant (after his 25-game suspension), the DPOY in Jaren Jackson Jr., the underrated Desmond Bane, and added maturity in Marcus Good and Derrick Rose. The potential is there, however after how final season ended I must see it earlier than I name them a contender.

Dallas has Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, they are going to be elite on offense if these guys are proper, however the protection is a query mark (as are the vibes round this staff). I noticed the Kings this preseason and thought they appeared like final 12 months’s staff, an elite offense with Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox however no protection (plus they won’t be that fortunate with well being once more). The Thunder have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and appear like a staff able to take a step ahead with Chet Holmgren on the 5, however how massive a step? The Clippers are contenders on paper however if you wish to guess on the well being of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George go forward, I’m off the bandwagon.

Minnesota appears like a staff that might take a step ahead from final season (they have been 5-0 in preseason). Anthony Edwards appears able to breakout subsequent to Karl-Anthony Cities and Rudy Gobert, however that is one other case the place it’s exhausting to purchase in with out seeing it work for half a season. The Pelicans may win 50+ video games and be a risk if Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are wholesome all season, however I’m not keen to make that guess. The Utah Jazz have an athletic frontline and John Collins solely provides to that, however are Collin Sexton and rookie Keyonte George able to play the purpose? I’m not bought on Utah as any greater than a playoff roster.


Houston Rockets

Houston spent massive this summer time on Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks to go subsequent to Jalen Inexperienced and firm, and Ime Udoka as coach can have them defending, however this staff has an extended option to go to be good. They are going to be higher, however making the play-in is an extended shot on this deep convention.


San Antonio Spurs
Portland Path Blazers

Two of essentially the most enjoyable groups on the board, however they won’t win many video games. Victor Wembanyama appears higher than marketed by way of the preseason, Scoot Henderson could possibly be particular, however each groups have an extended option to go and a whole lot of rebuilding to do to leap up ranges. Not this 12 months. Additionally, there will likely be a whole lot of followers saying, “Oh, that’s why Devin Vassell bought paid” after watching Spurs video games this season.

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