If you happen to’re going to win the West this season, you are going to must beat the most effective — the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Surprisingly, eight teams will tip off their seasons a minimum of somewhat expecting to do exactly that.
Their rationales are wildly varied, but somewhat believable, starting with one team that will have been a giant favorite over the Warriors within the Western Conference Finals if it had won just yet one more game in an effort to get in. Then there’s the up-and-comer who looked as if it would have older, slower Golden State’s number until its star got injured of their playoff showdown.
And let’s not forget the 2 teams that remained remarkably competitive despite each being down two star performers for all or many of the 12 months; two surprise postseason entrants who’ve bulked up big-time since we last saw them; and two superstar-driven clubs who spent the offseason in search of one of the simplest ways of assembling a championship-level supporting solid.
So who will claim the West in 2023? That depends the way you define “win.” The true winner may be one in every of the opposite six teams — the one which positions itself best to win the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. And in that case, winning might mean losing 70 games.
So let’s play ball … well, except when a top-nine team plays a bottom-six club. Then it won’t qualify as basketball in any respect.
(Teams listed in projected order of regular-season wins)
1. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
To dominate the West like Phoenix did last regular season, it takes star power, a capability to get along, injury luck and, as much as anything, a desire to achieve this. The Suns have already got disqualified themselves, which makes last 12 months’s surprise the Next Man Up. If not for Jaren Jackson Jr.’s foot injury, the Grizzlies could be an obvious selection to ascend to the highest, especially given the way in which they handled the Warriors within the regular season and while Ja Morant was healthy of their playoff series. Count on this: Morant will push harder from Day One than most (if not all) other playoff-dreaming Western superstars. And that is the way you win the West.
2. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Draymond Green believes he’s the most effective defensive player within the league. He wants a contract extension and doesn’t understand why a limited backup appears to be the next priority. With $100 million at stake, would not you punch anyone? For all of the talk in regards to the Warriors’ wave of the long run, last 12 months’s title was carted off on the broad shoulders of Green, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney. The Warriors coasted to 53 regular-season wins and really don’t have any incentive to go for more this 12 months, which is able to make maintaining with the motivated Grizzlies unlikely. What happens within the playoffs depends upon the mindset and whereabouts of Green, with no guarantee he hasn’t already become this 12 months’s Ben Simmons.
3. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
If the Clippers compete for the Western crown — and on paper, they need to — they’ll must throw an assist to the Trail Blazers. Last February, the Clippers pulled off the heist of the 12 months once they stole Norman Powell and Robert Covington from Portland. It was enough to permit the seriously compromised club to complete with a winning record, while also paving the way in which for a smooth transition into the return of stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Throw in Luke Kennard and Reggie Jackson and … well, anything they get out of John Wall, Nicolas Batum and Marcus Morris Sr. might be gravy. The scary part in regards to the Clippers is that they’re adequate to challenge for Western supremacy even while babying Leonard and George.
4. DENVER NUGGETS
You’ll be able to’t do higher than a healthy Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope anywhere west of Brooklyn. But having Porter and Murray mostly healthy in November is much less necessary than having them fully healthy in April. So while making up five games within the regular season on the Warriors seems reasonable, it is also meaningless. With the Jazz having gone to the dark side, no team is more of a lock to say a division title than the Nuggets, regardless of how much they rest Porter and Murray. Keeping Jokic healthy and finding dependable depth amongst Christian Braun, Bones Hyland and the trade deadline likely will determine the club’s ultimate fate.
5. PHOENIX SUNS
Cannot all of us just get along? When that query needs to be asked within the NBA, often the reply is not any. And that is why the Suns, whose mixture of chemistry and talent had them within the fast lane to a title last season, could be listed no higher than fifth within the West this season (and potentially quite a bit lower). Almost 100 percentage points higher than anyone else last season, the Suns have become Brooklyn West, with Deandre Ayton a whole mystery man and Jae Crowder — Jae Crowder, for crying out loud — wanting out. A fantastic coach and the emergence of Cameron Johnson into an All-Star-type player could salvage the season, but equally likely is that this query being asked sometime in February: Why didn’t we just go all-in on Kevin Durant?
6. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
With a stronger supporting solid than ever, that is the 12 months we get a solution to the query: Is Jayson Tatum really higher than Brandon Ingram? That probably will come all the way down to just how much the national media fall in love with arguably the league’s most entertaining team and stop gushing over the bad-shot-taking, turnover machine. A healthy Zion Williamson (remember him?) gives the Pelicans a Big Three together with Ingram and C.J. McCollum that rivals any within the West. Now mix in postseason darlings Herb Jones and Jose Alvarado, together with Willie Green’s magic on rookie Dyson Daniels, and look out.
7. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Projecting LeBron James to complete seventh at anything is more likely to get your analyst’s card revoked, but even that was 4 spots too high last season despite James having one other All-NBA-type 12 months in only 56 games. So what’s his reward for the exertions? Imagine it or not, it appears the Lakers got worse. This might get REAL ugly unless Anthony Davis, co-captain with Tatum on the All-Overrated Team, turns back the clock big-time; Russell Westbrook gets dealt for a Jazz giveaway to be named later; and Patrick Beverley refrains from ever giving LeBron instructions. They usually brought back Dennis Schroder, too? You have to be kidding.
8. DALLAS MAVERICKS
Just like the Grizzlies, the Mavericks bowed out of the Western playoffs last spring demanding a rematch with the Warriors. Unlike the Grizzlies, the Mavs had no reason to consider they belonged on that stage … and still don’t. The plan to construct a wall around star Luka Doncic failed. Christian Wood was added, while Jalen Brunson was lost. That is not constructing. That is destroying. The one excellent news for Dallas is that the NBA landscape is as volatile as ever, including several teams where the underside could fall out at any time. The needy Mavs could be clever to choose up some pieces. Their work will not be near being done.
9. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
The last time the Timberwolves threw first-round picks around, it wound up costing them the No. 7 pick within the 2021 draft in a trade where they were already giving up more (Wiggins) than they were receiving (D’Angelo Russell). You’d have thought they’d learned their lesson, but no. The truth is, the Timberwolves doubled-down once they sent 4 firsts and a few useful players to Utah for land-locked Rudy Gobert, effectively pointing powerful big man Karl-Anthony Towns to the 3-point line and green-lighting one in every of the league’s best wastes of talent. What’s next: A 1-2-2 zone defense? Now that his sons have turned pro, where’s Jim Boeheim once you need him?
10. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
One in every of the largest inquiries to be answered probably sometime before Christmas is: Will Damian Lillard log off on the plan to tank the season? And if not, would the Trail Blazers attempt to pacify him with a rewardless run at the ultimate play-in spot fairly than dealing him and joining the Wembanyama chase? After getting fleeced in deals with the Clippers and Pelicans last season, the Trail Blazers seemed primed to compete for Worst within the West honors before buckling under to Lillard pressure and upgrading with Jerami Grant within the offseason. With Anfernee Simons developing and Gary Payton II lured to Portland in one other good move, this team indeed appears headed upward. But to where? And why?
11. SACRAMENTO KINGS
Here’s the issue with hiring a veteran coach like Mike Brown: The team is sure to try hard and, gulp, win a couple of extra games. While that appears like thing once you have not made the playoffs since 2006, it hasn’t been a recipe for the Kings to make any headway within the league’s hardest division for a decade and a half. Say this in regards to the Kings: They’ve drafted well lately, which is sweet news for Keegan Murray, as likely as anyone to capture Rookie of the 12 months honors. Having added underrated Domantas Sabonis last season, the playoffs-starved Kings could find themselves buyers again in a buyers’ market come February. Anyone fascinated with De’Aaron Fox?
12. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Remember how the Spurs got great? They used a David Robinson injury as an excuse to go from a 59-win team to a 62-game loser, which put them ready to draft Tim Duncan. Is it possible we’re seeing history repeat itself here, with standout big man Chet Holmgren already ruled out for the season with a foot injury? Are you able to imagine Holmgren and Wembanyama on the identical team? It appears the Thunder can. Heck, star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander already showed up for the beginning of camp with a sprained MCL. Here we go again with a team that has a proven ability to play this game … and starts off with a modern-day Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili combination in Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey.
13. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Yes, the Spurs are back at Square One, which is where Gregg Popovich devised the Duncan caper and turned them into the league’s most consistently outstanding franchise for 20 years. Pop doesn’t have Robinson to sit down out this time around, but he does have a roster so devoid of talent, it won’t must be told to tank in an effort to lose 70 games. It’s Keldon Johnson’s turn to grow to be Pop’s next developmental success within the mold of Leonard and Dejounte Murray. And keep watch over Zach Collins, who will have to be healthy and on top of his game if he’s to be to Wembanyama what Robinson was to Duncan.
14. HOUSTON ROCKETS
No, there are usually not two teams within the West worse than the Spurs. But there are two — possibly more — who will try less hard to win. With promising rookies Jabari Smith Jr. and Tari Eason joining a core of Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and K.J. Martin, the Rockets could make a legitimate run at a play-in spot within the West in the event that they really wanted. But they, like everyone else, want Wembanyama, and if which means dealing Eric Gordon and Garrison Mathews before they deliver more wins than the script calls for, then put buyers on alert to start out lining up.
15. UTAH JAZZ
The Jazz lead the league in a single category this season: Members of the Get-Me-Outta-Here starting five, which features their very own Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson alongside Draymond Green, Lillard and Crowder. If the Jazz are a team to look at this season, it’s only to see where Conley and Clarkson wind up. Fortunately, each conferences are wide-open, meaning likelihood is good that several — if not all — of the teams which might be actually attempting to win must have the Jazz on speed dial. Two wins-killing trades could prove to be the difference for the team trying hardest to be the Worst of the West — the Jazz.
–By Dave Del Grande, Field Level Media