2018-19 NBA Preview: Western Conference

It was the last night of the preseason on Friday. Which means the season is basically here! FINALLY! It’s been a long entertaining summer of big moves, and big drama as well. Today starts part one of my 2018-19 NBA Preview, starting with the Western Conference.

(Note: Projected starters are for opening day, injured players will be marked)

1. Golden State Warriors

Projected Starters
PG: Stephen Curry
SG: Klay Thompson
SF: Kevin Durant
PF: Draymond Green
C: Jordan Bell
Key Reserves: Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Kevon Looney
Injuries: DeMarcus Cousins (expected back by the new year)

Yup. These guys again. The Warriors were already the best assembled team in NBA history, then they go out and get DeMarcus Cousins on a discount. There’s always a chance that the right storm, or a certain injury takes them out of the playoffs. But even with their predictable lack of energy for the regular season, it’s hard to see anyone but the Warriors taking the #1 seed in the west.

2. Houston Rockets

Projected Starters
PG: Chris Paul
SG: James Harden
SF: James Ennis
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Clint Capela
Key Reserves: Carmelo Anthony, Eric Gordon, Marquese Chriss

I realize they lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency this year, but this still revolves around CP3 and Harden. D’Antoni’s style fits them both like a glove, and I think we’re underestimating the kind of impact James Ennis can make, and how much an expanded role for PJ Tucker can help this team. I also think that Carmelo Anthony will actually buy into a bench role this season, so call me crazy.

3. Utah Jazz

Projected Starters
PG: Ricky Rubio
SG: Donovan Mitchell
SF: Joe Ingles
PF: Derrick Favors
C: Rudy Gobert
Key Reserves: Jae Crowder, Alec Burks, Grayson Allen

This year the Jazz bring back what should be a very strong lineup on both sides of the ball. A lineup consisting Rubio-Mitchell-Ingles-Crowder-Gobert ranked #2 in net rating last year in lineups that played over 100 minutes together. Pair that with the projected improvement of budding star Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz could end up as the #2 seed in the west when the regular season is all said and done.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

Projected Starters
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Terrance Ferguson
SF: Paul George
PF: Jerami Grant
C: Steven Adams
Key Reserves: Dennis Schröder, Nerlens Noel, Patrick Patterson
Injuries: Andre Roberson (Out 2-3 months)

The Thunder were one of the winners of the summer when they were able to re-sign Paul George to a multiyear deal. But then tragedy quickly struck when they found out that Andre Roberson would miss at least two months after a setback in his rehab. The Thunder had a defensive rating of 96.5 when Roberson was on the court last year which was the best in the league among qualifying players. I also think that they’ll be a lot more comfortable now that they don’t have to worry about anybody’s upcoming free agency decisions.

5. Denver Nuggets

Projected Starters
PG: Jamal Murray
SG: Gary Harris
SF: Will Barton
PF: Paul Millsap
C: Nikola Jokic
Key Reserves: Isaiah Thomas, Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee
Injuries: Michael Porter Jr. (Timetable TBD)

I am really high on the Denver Nuggets this year. They have all the makings of an exciting team that can be top 5 on the offensive end. they have lots of work do to defensively, as they were the 23rd ranked defense last year (26th post all-star break). Their season will depend on two things: The health of Paul Millsap (Only 38 GP last year), and the expected breakouts of Nikola Jokic (Needs to be an all-star) and Jamal Murray.

6. Los Angeles Lakers

Projected Starters
PG: Lonzo Ball
SG: Josh Hart
SF: Brandon Ingram
PF: LeBron James
C: JaVale McGee
Key Reserves: Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

The Lakers of course, made the biggest splash of the summer by signing the best player in the world LeBron James (To a four-year deal too!!!). So naturally, any roster that has James on the roster projects to be a playoff team. The rest of the roster if full of young talent and miscasts, but LeBron will no doubt make them all better. Just look at the rest of the rosters he’s carried in his career. None of the other teams at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff race scares anybody, and if guys like Ingram, Ball, and Kuzma ascend like we expect them to, they’ll be a team nobody wants to face in the first round.

7. New Orleans Pelicans

Projected Starters
PG: Elfriid Payton
SG: Jrue Holiday
SF: E’Twaun Moore
PF: Nikola Mirotic
C: Anthony Davis
Key Reserves: Julius Randle, Darius Miller, Ian Clark

Let’s face it; No team that features a talent like Anthony Davis should be anywhere near missing the playoffs. But that’s exactly where the Pelicans are. They dominated the Blazers last year in the first round of the playoffs, but failed to take that kind of momentum in the off-season by bringing in landscape changing talent. I love what Julius Randle brings to the table, and I like how they looked with Mirotic paired with Davis up front. But can we expect Holiday to stay healthy and play as well has he did in the first round on a consistent basis? Do the Pelicans have enough shooting to put around Davis? If I were them, I do what I can to pry Jimmy Butler out of Minnesota and make themselves a big three. Show Anthony Davis you’re willing to pull all the stops to try and keep him happy.

8. Portland Trailblazers

Projected Starters
PG: Damian Lillard
SG: CJ McCollum
SF: Mo Harkless
PF: Al-Farouq Aminu
C: Jusuf Nurkic
Key Reserves: Evan Turner, Zach Collins, Seth Curry

The Blazers have a lot of work to do after being completely dominated in a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Pelicans last season. They didn’t do anything to make themselves more of a contender in the west (Seth Curry was their biggest off-season addition), and we’ve already seen for the last few years of what the Blazers bring to the table. I think the Blazers have hit their peak as a team that can make some noise in the first round, but will never be true contenders until they find a true star. This will be the season where we hear the loudest noise of a potential breakup of the Lillard-McCollum backcourt.

9. San Antonio Spurs

Projected Starters
PG: Patty Mills
SG: DeMar DeRozan
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: LaMarcus Aldridge
C: Pau Gasol
Key Reserves: Marco Belinelli, Davis Bertans, Jakob Poeltl
Injuries: Dejounte Murray (Out for season), Derrick White (Out 6-8 weeks), Lonnie Walker

The Spurs finally ended the Kawhi saga when they traded him alongside Danny Green to the Toronto Raptors for all-star DeMar DeRozan and young center Jakob Poeltl. A healthy squad could probably lead them back into the playoffs just based off Pop alone. But now that the injury gods have killed them with the injuries to Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and rookie Lonnie Walker before the season, it’s made an already tough path that much harder. I hope I’m proven wrong by saying they won’t make the playoffs, because I love DeMar DeRozan and what he did for my Raptors, but the Spurs will miss the playoffs eventually.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves

Projected Starters
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Jimmy Butler
SF: Andrew Wiggins
PF: Taj Gibson
C: Karl-Anthony Towns
Key Reserves: Derrick Rose, Tyus Jones, Gorgui Dieng

My god what a dumpster fire the Timberwolves have turned out to be. Not even two weeks before the season starts, Jimmy Butler demands a trade and will not play with them otherwise. Then he returns to the squad, and curses out the entire organization. The teams around them got better while they let key role players walk, and they’ll be forced to trade Jimmy for ten cents on the dollar. The 10 seed in this current situation is all I expect after the ruined chemistry, but once they make the trade for scraps? They’ll likely have to fire Thibs and worry about possibly having a top 5 pick.

Link: 10 (Somewhat) Realistic Trades for Jimmy Butler

11. Los Angeles Clippers

Projected Starters
PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Tobias Harris
PF: Danilo Gallinari
C: Marcin Gortat
Key Reserves: Lou Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Montrezl Harrell

The Clippers were one of the pleasant surprises last year. Beverley was hurt most of the year along with Gallinari, traded Blake Griffin and still almost made the playoffs. Replacing DeAndre Jordan for Marcin Gortat is a drop-off on a talent standpoint, but I think he fits their team better. When healthy, they should be able to compete with most teams. I’m really interested to see what Shai comes in and does (and how long it takes for him to claim the starting job), and whether Montrezl Harrell can keep up his great form from last season.

12. Memphis Grizzlies

Projected Starters
PG: Mike Conley
SG: Garrett Temple
SF: Dillon Brooks
PF: JayMichael Green
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Jaren Jackson Jr, Kyle Anderson, Wayne Selden

The Grizzlies are one of those teams that have the talent to sneak up in to the 8 seed if all things go right. That being said, EVERYTHING needs to go perfectly. Mike Conley needs to stay healthy, Marc Gasol needs to stay in top form (33 years old entering a contract year), and they need to see the continued growth in guys like Dillon Brooks and Wayne Selden. They’re one of the teams we have to keep an eye on as a potential “blow it up” type team.

13. Dallas Mavericks

Projected Starters
PG: Dennis Smith Jr
SG: Luka Doncic
SF: Wesley Matthews
PF: Harrison Barnes
C: DeAndre Jordan
Key Reserves: Dwight Powell, JJ Barea, Devin Harris
Injuries: Dirk Nowitzki (out multiple weeks, will come off the bench when he returns)

As it stands, the roster shapes up to be a pretty fun one. You get to see Dirk chase a bit of history as he climbs up the scoring list, and you get to see the outstanding young backcourt of Dennis Smith Jr and Luka Doncic. Coached by Rick Carlisle, I have faith that the Mavs will be a competitive squad all year long, and depending on what happens in front of them, could sneak into the 8 seed discussion.

14. Phoenix Suns

Projected Starters
PG: De’Anthony Melton
SG: Devin Booker
SF: Josh Jackson
PF: Trevor Ariza
C: DeAndre Ayton
Key Reserves: TJ Warren, Mikal Bridges, Richaun Holmes

I actually really like what the Suns did this summer to revamp the youth of their roster. Which made the decision to fire their GM a week before the season that much more puzzling. They still need a starting caliber point guard, but it’s not like they’re going to be competing for a playoff spot in the next year or so, so couldn’t they have waited to see their options next summer with all the money they have open? With that said, if you’re looking for a reason to watch this team; it’s the combo of Booker and Ayton. It’ll be fun to see if he can take the leap this season and earn the mega-deal he signed this summer.

15. Sacramento Kings

Projected Starters
PG: De’Aaron Fox
SG: Buddy Hield
SF: Bogdan Bogdonavic
PF: Marvin Bagley
C: Willie Cauley-Stein
Key Reserves: Zach Randolph, Skal Labissiere, Yogi Ferrell

Sure, the Kings are an absolute dumpster fire of an organization, but at least they have at least been able to acquire some intriguing young talent. Only problem is they’re more likely to be “serviceable” guys than the stars Vlade Divac expects them to be. I still cringe at the fact they didn’t take Luka Doncic at #2 overall, but that’s the Kings for ya. Best case scenario for them is to tank out yet another season, and hope they get the #1 pick so they can draft RJ Barrett. The consequences if they don’t get the #1 pick? It goes to the Boston Celtics.

How do you think the Western Conference will finish out? Follow us on Twitter and let’s start a conversation @AFewGoodMics, @thomas_mooney1

3 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s