Welcome to part 2 of WONC Sports NBA preview. In part one, predictions for the Eastern conference were made. In part two, we will dive into the West. Here we go.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
Things to be optimistic about: A full season of Kendrick Perkins will be good, and James Harden is poised to break out. Also, they’re the only contender from last season’s West that didn’t lose a significant piece other than Memphis.
Things to be pessimistic about: This team is surprisingly not deep. Also, it remains to be seen if Scott Brooks is the guy to lead the Thunder to the next level.
Overall: The West is up for grabs, and Durant and Westbrook appear very ready to grabbing that alpha-dog spot. They have all the pieces of an NBA title contender.
2. Dallas Mavericks
Things to be optimistic about: Reloaded from losing Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea by acquiring Lamar Odom, Delonte West, and Vince Carter. They still have Dirk of course, and the lockout has let them retain their “No one respects us!!” angle from last year’s playoffs.
Things to be pessimistic about: This team is old. Also, they replace Chandler with Brendan Haywood, who just isn’t that good. It remains to be seen if Vince Carter will contribute anything to this team.
Overall: The Mavs may be aging, but they have the pieces to be dominant once again in the West. With Dirk, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and now Lamar Odom in tow, that’s a solid nucleus for a chance to repeat.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
Things to be optimistic about: Chris Paul to Blake Griffin alley-oops. Caron Butler returning to form. Veteran role players in Chauncey Billups, Ryan Gomes, and Mo Williams.
Things to be pessimistic about: It’s the Clippers, so there should be good odds that A. Chris Paul blows his knee out again, B. Blake Griffin gets injured, or C. the Clips inexplicably deal one of their important players in a move that makes no sense.
Overall: The Clippers are a title contender. The Paul trade worked beautifully for them, and they are one post player away from moving up this list. Also, apparently they just gained that extra post player by signing Reggie Evans. Fear the Clippers this season.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Things to be optimistic about: They get Rudy Gay back, which will be big for them after losing Shane Battier. They also smartly resigned Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, meaning they have the entire nucleus of their playoff team back. I think Lionel Hollins should have won Coach of the Year last season (Seriously, the Grizzlies overcame losing their best scorer in February and O.J. Mayo being a legitimate headcase to almost make the Western Conference Finals as an 8 seed!!!)
Things to be pessimistic about: they spent the entire free agency period shopping O.J. Mayo, which may not be a good thing for the volatile guard’s psyche. Also, they just paid Zach Randolph, which could mean a return to the “Empty stats and lack of effort” Zach Randolph of his Knicks and Clippers years.
Overall: The Grizzlies proved they are for real in the playoffs last season, and look to be ready to go as legitimate contenders in the West. This is a team that has crafted a nice roster through drafts and smart trades, and it’s awesome to see them compete
.5. Portland Trail Blazers
Things to be optimistic about: Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford are terrific fits for this team, who suddenly won’t miss Brandon Roy and Andre Miller as much. They also get two scrappy frontcourt players to join LaMarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby in Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith, also known as a younger Kurt Thomas.
Things to be pessimistic about: Greg Oden’s still probably not going to be effective for the Blazers. They might need more guard depth as well, as the next best guard after Felton, Crawford and Wesley Matthews is Nolan Smith.
Overall: Portland is probably a tier below the top squads in the West, but this team is bound to make some noise this season. They’re a playoff-ready team that could easily shock someone.
6. San Antonio Spurs
Things to be optimistic about: They have the best coach in the NBA in Greg Popovich, and the same nucleus, minus George Hill plus T.J. Ford, that garnered the West one seed last season.
Things to be pessimistic about: This is an old team, and not one build for a shortened season. Also, the team needs more from Richard Jefferson, and I’m always going to be scared of giving significant minutes to DeJuan Blair and his non-existent ACLs.
Overall: Old teams will get punished by this condensed schedule, and like Boston, San Antonio will look to just make the playoffs, and go from there.
7. Denver Nuggets
Things to be optimistic about: they’re lean, they’re mean, they don’t have any more chemistry problems, and they’re very deep, meaning that they will gain a few extra victories over the slower, shorter teams.
Things to be pessimistic about: They overpaid Nene, and losing Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler AND J.R. Smith to China hurts. Also, their best scorer is Danilo Gallinari.
Overall: I don’t really like this team, and I think they’re going to get destroyed by a team with superior talent in the playoffs, but they’re scrappy and deep enough that they could sneak by some teams and snatch an ok playoff spot.
8. New Orleans Hornets
Things to be optimistic about: Their frontcourt is loaded with Emeka Okafor, Chris Kaman and Carl Landry. Eric Gordon appeared ready for stardom anyway, and now may have the added “Eff you for trading me” effect. The Hornets are also a total Ewing Theory candidate.
Things to be pessimistic about: Jarrett Jack is the team’s only real point guard. Right now, the top three bench players are Whoever sits out of the Okafor/Kaman/Landry group (Probably Kaman), Al-Farouq Aminu and Marco Belinelli.
Overall: The Hornets may not look too hot, but they came out looking beautiful after the Paul trade, and have enough pieces to push for a playoff spot. And if Gordon can become the star he appears he’s headed towards being, they just might surprise some people.
9. Los Angeles Lakers
Things to be optimistic about: Kobe and Pau Gasol may still be enough to drag this team into the playoffs.
Things to be pessimistic about: Have you seen this roster? Their point guards are Steve Blake and Derek Fisher. Their guy to spell Andrew Bynum is Josh McRoberts. Metta World Peace to a gigantic step back last season, and as mentioned in part 1, it’s almost a guarantee Bynum will miss at least 5 games in addition to his 5 game suspension to start the season.
Overall: I cannot see this team making it through 66 games in 120 days. It’s asking too much out of an old, not very deep roster. This may look crazy, and they’ll probably find a way to make it into the playoffs (Especially if they nab one of the China guys or Gilbert Arenas), but right now I can’t see it.
10. Phoenix Suns
Things to be optimistic about: There’s a good mix of energy guys, established veterans, and youth here. A full year of Marcin Gortat and a lack of Vince Carter will not be bad things.
Things to be pessimistic about: Nash is still unhappy with the team, and the Suns still pay Josh Childress and Sebastian Telfair to play basketball.
Overall: Phoenix is sort of in limbo right now, which is why having them just outside the playoff picture makes sense. They’ll once again be competitive but not good enough to break through.
11. Houston Rockets
Things to be optimistic about: There’s enough here to believe the Rockets won’t be too bad. Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, and Kyle Lowry is a nice nucleus, and they got their coveted center and glue guy in Sam Dalembert.
Things to be pessimistic about:They have a lot of pieces but no real stars. The revoked Chris Paul trade screwed them, and they’re still giving major minutes to Chase Budinger.
Overall: Another ho-hum team like the Suns, with little direction and little star power. That might be good for any of the bottom four seeds in the East, but not in the rugged West.
12. Golden State Warriors
Things to be optimistic about: The scoring punch of Monta Ellis, Steph Curry and David Lee will guarantee they will still score 100+ points nearly every game. Klay Thompson and a full year of Ekpe Udoh, plus the addition of Mark Jackson, might make them better defensively.
Things to be pessimistic about: When Ekpe Udoh and Klay Thompson are your only players that play any defense (And Kwame Brown is your starting center), there’s a problem.
Overall: The Warriors are just outside of competing for a playoff spot, but they need a real defensive threat down low before they will ever be considered a contender.
13. Sacramento Kings
Things to be optimistic about: There’s a ton of talent here. Tyreke Evans is still a good shooter at guard, and DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson and J.J. Hickson give them scoring punch down low.
Things to be pessimistic about: This team could Chernobyl any day now. Tyreke, Boogie Cousins, and John Salmons is three more headcases than anyone would want on their team, and if Chuck Hayes isn’t healthy they have no defensive presence down low. Also, they need a real point guard, because like Rodney Stuckey, it remains to be seen if Evans is one.
Overall: The Kings will be interesting to watch, as they try to save basketball in Sacramento with a decently put together team and lots of Jimmermania. However, there’s a high likelihood Paul Westphal won’t be able to mesh his pieces together without a proven point guard or real glue guy to keep it together.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
Things to be optimistic about: Kevin Love is still going to be a dominant rebounder. Ricky Rubio appears to be the real deal, and a combo of Derrick Williams and an improved Wesley Johnson should make the team better.
Things to be pessimistic about: Their only real 2-guard is Bonzi Wells, who last played an NBA game in 2008. They have four small forwards, four centers, and three point guards on roster, and the best players of those 11 are Ricky Rubio, Michael Beasley and Darko.
Overall: This team is deep, so they may crank out wins that way, but until the Wolves can find a competent shooting guard and solve their small forward mess, this team won’t go anywhere.
15. Utah Jazz
Things to be optimistic about: Josh Howard was a great signing to replace Andrei Kirilenko. Also, Derrick Favors and C.J. Miles could both break out this year.
Things to be pessimistic about: They have 5 post players and 3 point guards, and none of them are that good. I can’t see Devin Harris, Paul Millsap, and Al Jefferson carrying a team far. Enes Kanter might not be that good.
Overall: The Jazz need to regroup, and this roster is currently a bunch of trade chips and unproven guys. They may get swallowed up by a competitive West.
Finally, a Few Predictions as to What Will Come of this Season
Eastern Conference Finals: Bulls vs. Heat
Western Conference Finals: Thunder vs. Mavericks
NBA Finals: Bulls vs. Thunder
NBA Champs: Oklahoma City Thunder
NBA MVP: Kevin Durant
Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving
Player that will be way worse than anyone thinks: Kobe Bryant
Player who will be way better than everyone thinks: Ty Lawson
Team most likely to be way better than I predicted: Tie-Spurs, Lakers
Team most likely to be way worse than I predicted: Magic
Coach of the Year: Lionel Hollins
Player most likely to ride off into the sunset after the season: Tie-Jason Kidd, Kevin Garnett
Thanks for reading, as always. Happy Holidays, and enjoy the NBA season. I know I will.