2016 NBA Western Conference Outlook

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(Getty Images)

Projected Standings:

1. Golden State Warriors
2. San Antonio Spurs
3. Los Angeles Clippers
4. Houston Rockets
5. Portland Trail Blazers
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
7. Utah Jazz
8. Minnesota Timberwolves
9. Memphis Grizzlies
10. Dallas Mavericks
11. Sacramento Kings
12. New Orleans Pelicans
13. Denver Nuggets
14. Los Angeles Lakers
15. Phoenix Suns


Sleeper Teams:

Minnesota Timberwolves – One of the youngest teams in the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves added Brandon Rush, Cole Aldrich, Jordan Hill and drafted Kris Dunn this offseason. Karl-Anthony Towns (stretch 5) is coming off an impressive Rookie of the Year season where he averaged a cool 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds. The Timberwolves look to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-2004 season this year. The inexperience of these young players will cost them a few wins down the line as well as the lack of 3pt shooters on the court. Recently hired, Tom Thibodeau will be a huge factor in the team’s success this year by improving their lackluster defense. Without Kevin Garnett around, the young Twolves will look to Ricky Rubio, a true glue guy for this roster. Finishing in the 13th seed with a 29-53 record last year shows plenty of room for improvement.

Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook is a man on a mission. Being only four games into the season, Russell Westbrook is averaging an astonishing 37.8 ppg, 10.5 rebounds, and 10 assists a game, while leading the Thunder to a zesty 4-0 start. Truthfully, the Thunder have a slim shot of making it very far in the West this offseason, due to the lack of supporting help, and they are in the very stacked West seed. Being that Russell Westbrook’s only true supporting crew members are the two white stallions, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams, I think they will have a hard time making it very far in the West. However, I think Russell Westbrook will be able to pull off a regular season like we have yet to see in a modern NBA. Sure everyone talks about the greatness that was Oscar Robertson back when he averaged a triple double in the 1961-1962 season but let’s be serious I’m sure someone like Marcelo Huertas could do the same if he were to play in that era. All jokes aside, Russell Westbrook is truly about to have the season of a lifetime, which could help the Thunder breach a small playoff berth. I believe that Russell Westbrook is playing with a chip on his shoulder this season, which means he wants everyone to know that he doesn’t need Kevin Durant to win in the NBA, in fact he wants to tell everyone that Kevin Durant only held him back, and he’s going to be a possible MVP candidate without him, which is why I believe that Russell Westbrook will leave his heart and soul on the court every game this season. But, do I think it will be enough to push them over the postseason hump? Honesty, no. However, I will not completely blacklist the Thunder from making a small postseason run. This is Russell Westbrook’s season to show everyone how great of a player he truly is, which is why I will not count them out of all postseason rounds. To be honest, The Thunder team is doing pretty well so far, considering they lost their franchise player who was with them for the last eight years of his career, but hey, that’s none of my business.

Utah Jazz – Arguably the most slept on team this year, the Utah Jazz have something to prove. Players like Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward will be vital to the team’s success. Granted this team doesn’t struggle with injuries; last year alone, Gobert, Favors, and Burks missed a combined 92 games. The recent acquisition of George Hill and young gun Dante Exum have an essential role on this team to propel them to a playoff berth. At age 35, Joe Johnson “has potential” in the words of Adam Lew, but his role is minimal in Utah. The key to beating teams as the Jazz is to spread the floor with Hayward, Hood, or Hill to open the paint for the powerful bigs to do their work. The X Factor on the Jazz is Boris Diaw, a mix of a glass cleaning, playmaking, stretch big, shooting 36% from behind the arc with 4.6 assists (per 36 mins.) I expect a good season from the Utah Jazz this year, but when playoffs roll around don’t bet on them making it past the second round.


 

Bust Teams:

Memphis Grizzlies- Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat, the Memphis Grizzlies is a franchise built on taking L’s. For God’s sake, this is the team that paid Mike Conley $30 million to play for them. Seriously, if Mike Conley is worth $30 million a year to play the game of basketball then what’s LeBron worth? 30 billion? That just doesn’t add up. Moving on from that point, the Memphis Grizzlies is just a team that can never pull through, which is surprising saying that they do have a pretty good cast running the show. Vince Carter might be washed up, but he’s still a great mentor to the younger guys, Tony Allen who is a defense master, Troy Daniels is reliable to make a three when needed, the money man himself, Mike Conley, and who could forget Marc Gasol, who is one of the most efficient centers in the league. However, there is something systemically wrong with the Memphis Grizzlies. The team has no true superstar that can put them on the next level. Until they can trade for a true superstar, they will continue to be mediocre.

Houston Rockets- I know what you’re thinking, “Will you placed the Rockets at fourth in the standings, but then you put them as a bust team. What are you doing?” And to that I say, “shut up, I can do what I want.” The only reason I put them fourth is because of one man, James Harden. The whole offensive plan for the Rockets has now changed saying that they do not have to worry about some trash point guard running their offense, they now have the best shooting guard in the league running their point guard position, and I think it’s a perfect fit. James Harden running their offense is one of the best strategies they could’ve chosen, for James Harden can spread the floor effectively, pass accurately, and he is easily one of the best shot creators in the league, but once again they will have no success in the postseason. James Harden’s stellar offense will not be enough to get them through the postseason. Also, they don’t have a very star studded team when it comes to the supporting players. With players such as Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, and how dare I forget Clint Capella assisting James Harden, how could this team thrive in the postseason? Simple answer is they can’t. This being said, the contribution of James Harden alone will not be enough to push them over the hump that is the strenuous postseason of the Western Conference

Sacramento Kings – As a wise man once said, “They’re trash.” This wise man was referencing the Sacramento Kings. You would think that a team with player such as Ty Lawson, Ben Mclemore, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley Stein, Matt Barnes, and DeMarcus Cousins would be able to do something in today’s NBA, but you would be completely wrong, they’re garbage. The main problem that hurts this team is the ego of everyone on the team, especially DeMarcus Cousins. If Demarcus Cousins is able to get his act together and not whine like a little girl, because he doesn’t get the ball as much as he would wish, he could turn this franchise around actually, for the coaching staff would try and build a super team around him. Being that DeMarcus Cousins is easily one of the best centers in the league, he would be able to do great things with an overall good team supporting him, but the Sacramento Kings fail to do this every single season.


 

Winner of the Conference

As much as it hurts to say, it’s the Golden State Warriors, and we all know it. Once this team gets in their groove, they are going to be nearly impossible to beat. Saying that they have the second best point guard in the world, a top four shooting guard, third best player in the world, a top four power forward, and the goat himself, Javale McGee on one team. Once they get their engines revving, there’s no stopping them; honestly, the Golden State Warriors ruined the competitive nature that was encompassed in the NBA, for everyone knows the finals will be the Warriors vs the Cavaliers for at least the next four years, and the Warriors might win them all, unless Lebron can perform a miracle again.

by Will Riley

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