The NBA regular season doesn’t start until October. And until recently (Celtics and Cavaliers trade) NBA fans haven’t much to talk about in a month or so. There have been a number of analysts and bloggers to give super-early predictions for the Western Conference standings for the upcoming season. I wrote a few weeks ago about the bogus prediction that ESPN had for total wins regarding the Memphis Grizzlies. So in rebuttal to that and many more Western Conference standings articles, I will provide my own.
I will discuss in this article the top four seeds that will make it to the playoffs, as well as some who won’t. These final standings will be based on match-ups and roster acquisitions.
I’ll start with the teams that I predict will not make the playoffs in 2018.
The Phoenix Suns will continue their reign as the worst team in the West for the second season in a row. As much buzz as there is around the Lakers, they will just need to plan for the 2018-19 season, another playoff-less season is in the near future. The Kings made some roster changes this offseason, and their young class of rookie talent is stacked (De’Aaron Fox, Frank Mason III, Harry Giles, Justin Jackson), but the combination of young and old won’t work for a few years, if at all.
The Boogie-Brow experiment will give the West an interesting race towards the end of the season, and adding Rondo to the mix will at least keep the team dramatic, but no playoffs for them. The Mavs are just bland, a few minor changes this offseason, but nothing to amount to 10+ wins over last season. The Utah Jazz lost most (if not all) hope after Gordon Hayward decided to make life easier out East, so after claiming the 5th seed last season, its likely back to the old ways for the Jazz. And lastly, the Portland Trail Blazers have changed very little in recent years. The core of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is nice, but the front office hasn’t given the two guards much else to work with, though rumor has it that Carmelo Anthony could be joining up. That might change things.
Now on to the teams that will claim the top four Western Conference spots this season. Let’s start with the unanimous number one seed.
I’ll save you any default statements you have already read a million times about how good the Warriors are. There’s a really good chance they repeat as NBA Champs again, nuff said.
The Rockets added a perennial All-Star in Chris Paul and will move do-it-all-except-defense James Harden back to the shooting guard position. I have them as a two-seed because of their high-powered offense that is simply tough to out-score. Defense is not their mantra, and they have owned that. Though Paul does give them a solid defender at a guard position, his offense is what will be essential for this team. The Rockets bench keeps their offense from becoming stagnant when the starters rest, and there are plenty of players on this roster that will actively contribute this season. See below why I have Houston finishing above the Spurs.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Let me clarify something. I do not think the Rockets are a better team than the Spurs. But if you look at the schedule that Houston has, there are long stretches versus bad teams that gives the Rockets a chance to collect wins while the Spurs will have to work to maintain their standing. The Rockets also finish the season with a stretch of 11 games that are all winnable, that is crucial coming down the stretch in what will likely be a tight two through six seed race in the Western Conference.
Now onto the Spurs. Does it really matter what their roster consist of as long as they are led by Gregg Popovich? They are the New England Patriots of the NBA. But adding Rudy Gay to an already solid rotation, the Spurs will once again be scary. With ancients like Pau Gasol and Manu Ginobili (and Tony Parker), this team could be slow and blown by at points during the season. Their schedule doesn’t leave a ton of room to put together long stretches of wins, but also doesn’t look to produce long losing streaks either. Kawhi Leonard will again make his case of MVP and lead this team to a top spot in the West, TBD on whether they can compete with Houston or Golden State.
As of now, this looks to be the last year of OKC’s window to truly contend Russell Westbrook was offered an extension, but hasn’t signed it. Paul George is planning to move to LA after this season. So what will be left for this team? Regardless of what 2018-19 looks like, this season could be a fun one for Thunder fans. The tandem of Westbrook and George will be the next best thing since Westbrook/Durant, and both are pretty good defenders as well. The roster altogether is competitive, with ball handlers and scoring options at all positions (though there won’t be many extra shots to around when Russ and PG are on the floor together).
Sam Presti on possible Westbrook extension: "I wouldn't really say that one's a negotiation." Team is effectively just waiting on an answer.— Royce Young (@royceyoung) July 11, 2017
They start the season with seven winnable games in a row, then host Boston, followed by another six game winnable stint. They could start the season 13-1 with just a little bit of luck. The rest of the season evens out a little, but with no real signs of long losing streaks. The final 10-ish games of the season will be crucial stretch for OKC with road games at SA, NOLA, HOU, and MIA. They will be fighting for home court advantage in the first round, so this final stretch could change the make-up of the standings.
The Eastern Conference playoff predictions will be coming soon.
All rosters and schedules provided by ESPN NBA.