It is time to throw away the American inferiority complex with its place in the sport, where many blindly claim that technique should come above all in choosing and developing the best prospects and that the U.S. is not an international power because it cares too much about athleticism.
NBA 2019-2020 Western Conference Playoff Predictions
By: Ryan Stein
The Western Conference has a bevy of Finals contenders for this upcoming season, and there's no consensus on who will rise to the top. From 1-13 in the West there are competitive basketball teams with chances of making the playoffs. With that, determining seeding is much more difficult this time around than it was for the Eastern Conference. Keep in mind that these rankings are for the regular season ONLY, and are not necessarily an indicator of how the teams will perform in the playoffs.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are the ultimate winners of this offseason, adding two superstars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to an already formidable core. There will be a bit of an adjustment period while this team figures out how to incorporate the two stars into the offense, but top-to-bottom this is the most impressive roster the league has to offer.
2. Denver Nuggets
Denver may not be as exciting of a contender as the LA teams, but they proved themselves to be a terrific regular season team last year. They've kept their core together and added a versatile defender and slasher in Jerami Grant. Continuity is a huge factor in regular season success, and the Nuggets have it in spades.
3. Houston Rockets
The acquisition of Russell Westbrook makes the team more interesting than it was before, but whether or not the team will actually perform better remains to be seen. Westbrook and James Harden just don't fit together at all as backcourt partners, and while Harden has a better relationship with Westbrook than he had with the departing Chris Paul, that be enough to take them to the Finals. All that said, Harden and Westbrook are two players that go hard in the regular to pad their stats, and will thus lead the Rockets to one of the top 4 records in the West.
4. Portland Trail Blazers
If you're looking for the top four title contenders in the West, Portland likely wouldn't be included within that elite group. Since these are regular season predictions, the Trail Blazers get the edge over some higher upside teams. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are good enough for a comfortable seeding in the playoffs. Portland lost some significant contributors, but they made up for it with the pickups of the enigmatic Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, and Mario Hezonja.
5. Utah Jazz
The Jazz got quite a bit better this offseason, something that isn't talked about as much as it should be. While they lost the popular Derrick Favors to New Orleans, the incoming Ed Davis will help offset that loss. The additions of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic are huge for a team starving for proven playoff producers. Their arrivals will also help ease the offensive burden that has been placed upon Donovan Mitchell the past two seasons.
6. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers will be one of the most dangerous teams in the league come playoff time...assuming they're healthy. That may be a lot to ask for from Anthony Davis and LeBron James, with the former having a significant history and the latter coming off an injury that had him miss 1/3 of last season. Expect both players to sit out games to stay fresh for the postseason, especially James, who is entering his 17th season. DeMarcus Cousins could be a difference maker, but no NBA player has ever come back from an Achilles injury and was the same caliber of player they were before the injury. Kyle Kuzma's development will dictate how this season goes for LA's second-best team.
7. Golden State Warriors
The losses of Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant will be enough for one of the most dominant teams ever to take a big step back this season. Even with the addition of young star D'Angelo Russell, the Warriors just don't have the talent they previously had. Russell's fit next to Steph Curry is questionable, and it wouldn't be surprising to see the newcomer be traded at the trade deadline to a team like the Timberwolves. This may be a good for Golden State to take a step back and make plans to jump back into contention for the 2020-2021 season.
8. New Orleans Pelicans
This pick may be a little optimistic, considering all the young players on this team. However, the Pelicans picked up some serious talent this offseason, with free agents JJ Redick and Derrick Favors joining the team, along with players with potential like Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and, most importantly, Zion Williamson. If Williamson plays larger than life like he did in college, a playoff spot could be in the cards for New Orleans.
9. San Antonio Spurs
Anyone who bets against the Spurs making the playoffs is foolish, but it has to happen at some point. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are both definitely stars by name, but DeRozan especially has questionable impact on a team's success. That being said, DeRozan will have something to prove this year, after the Raptors traded him away and ended up being NBA Champions as a result of the return they got for him. The lack of improvements made this offseason combined with the improvements made by the rest of the West will make the playoffs a tough challenge for the Spurs to beat.
10. Sacramento Kings
From a talent acquisition standpoint, the Kings got better. Trevor Ariza, Cory Joseph, and Dwayne Dedmond will all be helpful role players this season, and De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley will likely see their games grow as well. The problem with the Kings' offseason is their overpayment of role players. Sacramento may not be the most desirable place to play, but there is no rationalization for paying Dedmond $17 million a year. The Kings will likely see their playoff drought continue this season.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves
At one point considered serious contenders to acquire D'Angelo Russell, the Timberwolves ended up opting for smaller moves that will improve the team around the margins. Rookie Jarrett Culver has a chance to grow into a star player next to Karl-Anthony Towns and Robert Covington's return will be a boon for the Wolves' defense. While I have them outside of the playoffs, this team has the upside to be an 8-seed or better if some balls bounce their way.
12. Dallas Mavericks
Dallas has possibly the most intriguing young duo in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. However, Porzingis hasn't played since February of 2018, a long time for an athlete to sit out of competition. With his concerning injury history, it is too early at this point to say the Mavericks will be a playoff team, even with the electric Doncic leading the way.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder
Before trading away stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder probably would've been a top-6 team in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City were forced to hit the reset button when George requested a trade, and a decrepit Chris Paul will not be enough for this team to be in the playoffs this year. With the surplus of picks acquired and the draft history GM Sam Presti has, don't be surprised if the Thunder are back near the top of the conference in 3-4 years.
14. Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis will be an exciting team, for sure. With Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke leading a young team, this season will be all about development. The Grizzlies will "fight" for the top pick in the 2020 draft, and will be a team with the potential to become actual contenders in the next few years.
15. Phoenix Suns
The Suns are the worst-run team in the NBA. Ricky Rubio was a fine pick-up, but he was overpaid for his services. Trading away the number 6 pick (and the chance to draft point guard Coby White) for the 11th pick and Dario Saric didn't make sense at the time, and was further confounding when Phoenix used the 11th pick on Cam Johnson, a player that was projected as a late-first to early-second round pick. Trading away TJ Warren and Josh Jackson for basically nothing was also a head scratcher, and Devon Booker and Deandre Ayton won't be enough to make the team in the desert relevant again. Expect Booker to request a trade within the next year or two.
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