You Really, Really, Really Should Watch the NBA: Western Conference Preview
I get it. You’ve just come off a weekend of finalizing your Halloween costume, carving pumpkins, and feasting on fantastic football games (Sorry #FSUTwitter). The last thing you’re thinking about is the fact that NBA basketball tips off on Tuesday, and (gasp!) you’re not sure exactly what to watch for. Never fear…here is a simple rundown of every team, what to watch for, what to ignore, and a crazy stupid prediction for each team. Let’s rank them from worst to first, ok?
15) Portland Trail Blazers
Every generic horror movie has one similar scene: an unsuspecting victim racing through the woods to a safe house or cabin only to find that OMG NONE OF THEIR FRIENDS ARE THERE and they’re all alone. This is Blazers point guard Damion Lillard this year. The two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year is the only returning starter to this year’s Blazer team. Numerous players left including star LaMarcus Aldridge. Those exiting players accounted for roughly 82% of the Blazers’ points. Yikes.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Lillard really is a fantastic player. He can pass, shoot, and direct an offense well. One of the league’s up-and-coming players that you may not know about.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: Unless Lillard is playing all 48 minutes of all 82 games the Blazers don’t have a shot to make any noise this year. And if Lillard did do that, his arms would likely fall off. Maybe this could be a reason to watch?
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: Learning from the disasters of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, the Blazers get the 1st overall pick in the 2016 draft and wisely take the surefire top choice Ben Simmons.
14) Phoenix Suns
Just like Brooklyn has one of the most forgettable rosters in the league, the Suns aren’t far behind. They inexplicably traded away two high-end point guards last year in Goran Dragic and Isiah Thomas. Their lack of faith in former first round pick Alex Len in the post caused them to overpay for Tyson Chandler.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Suns are a sneaky team that in the way you don’t typically expect a film with Bradley Cooper to be good, it does occasionally surprise with acting talent. They’ll win some games, and Chandler will help Phoenix improve from being one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Eric Bledsoe can manage the team on the offensive end well.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: In the insanely deep west, Phoenix is an afterthought. Losing top end talent and failing to fully develop Len may prove costly. Frankly, they’re a boring team to watch.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: After another year in decline (the Suns won 9 fewer games last year than the previous season), Coach Jeff Hornacek is fired. He immediately is hired by another team with a more competent front office.
13) Minnesota Timberwolves
There are so many intriguing storylines to the Timberwolves this season. All of them were bypassed when their terrific coach Flip Saunders passed away this weekend. This weighs heavy on the organization as a whole, and especially their key veteran Kevin Garnett who posted this picture Sunday remembering his beloved coach.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: This team has star potential all over the pace. Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins, newcomer Karl Anthony Towns, and a continually improving point guard in Ricky Rubio. If this team was in the East, they’d be a playoff team. With veteran presence in KG and now Andre Miller and Tayshaun Prince, look for the T-Wolves to develop quickly.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: As much fun as the young talent will be to watch, they’re still young. The growing pains will be tough, and the sad loss of Flip Saunders will certainly weigh emotionally on the team throughout the season.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: The loss of Saunders will give KG more urgency to get involved with the team from the other side. He will retire and help guide the team from the front office into a serious playoff team in the next three years.
12) L.A. Lakers
The Lakers’ offseason consisted of various attempts at wooing the likes of Lamarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe. They settled for Lou Williams and Roy Hibbert. The franchise has gone from perennial Western Conference contenders to an old age insurance policy holder for Kobe Bryant. Kobe, who just turned 37 in August, has a salary that literally consumes a third of the Lakers’ money pool.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: For Lakers’ fans, this will (hopefully) be Kobe’s farewell tour. He’s old, been injured the past two seasons, and simply isn’t the player he used to be. His presence will help develop your future hopefuls like Julius Randle and Deangelo Russell, but watch the Lakers this year for Kobe, and appreciate one of the greatest to ever play the game.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: When Kobe isn’t on the court, there really isn’t much to keep you interested. The second-tier stars that could push the Lakers into playoff contention simply aren’t there anymore, and as a fan of the NBA and its rich history, it feels wrong to watch the Lose Angeles Lakers get blown out every other night by even mediocre teams.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: Kobe announces his retirement, something most people already saw coming. He’ll join the NBA Playoff analyst team and provide some of the more interesting analysis in recent years, prompting TNT to make him a replacement for Charles Barkley.
11) Denver Nuggets
Just 6 seasons ago, Denver was a team destined for glory, falling just short of making the NBA Finals. That team had stars such as Carmelo, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups, and a just-past-his-peak Allen Iverson. While the 2015-26 Nuggets don’t have that star power, they do have a talented starting 5 that can match up with most anyone in the league.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Kenneth Faried, the forward affectionately known as “The Manimal”, is a human highlight reel. Think a leaner, just as explosive Shawn Kemp from back in the day. Add on top of that one of the most dynamic rookies from the draft Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver has the opportunity to set up cornerstones for long-term success. If center Jusuf Nurkic takes the next step, this could be a sleeper to sneak into the playoffs.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: As packed with potential as the Nuggets’ starting 5 is, the bench lacks serious depth. If they get down by 10-15 in the third quarter of any game, it’s hard to see them being able to make a solid comeback.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: With a talented rookie passer in Mudiay, Faried takes a step forward and finds himself making the Second Team All-NBA. More importantly, the Nuggets increase their win total by at least 5 games, though they still miss out on the playoffs.
10) Sacramento Kings
You like drama. No, you love drama. That’s why you watch Real Housewives and The Bachelor in secret so your friends won’t know. Well, if you love basketball and drama, have I got a team for you!
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The Kings have three personalities that are sure to be explosive together: Rajon Rondo, Demarcus Cousins, and newcomer Willie Cauley-Stein. The thing is all three of these dudes are really good at basketball. How they jell or don’t jell will be entertaining by itself. If there were a Hard Knocks program for the NBA, it would feature the Sacramento Kings.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: Like many teams that feature just as much entertainment off the court as on it, when things go south, they go quickly. Reports are already surfacing of a riff in the relationship between Rondo and Coach George Karl, so things could get ugly quickly in Sactown.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: Despite a powder keg of dysfunction, Karl manages the egos well enough to have Sacramento in contention for a playoff spot up until the last few games of the season. Demarcus Cousins will finish in the top 10 of MVP voting.
9) Dallas Mavericks
Part of me feels bad for Dallas, and yes, even Mark Cuban. The Deandre Jordan saga shouldn’t have gone down like it did. I’m of the old school thought that when you give your word, you stick to it. Alas, Jordan re-signed with the Clippers, and the Mavs now have Zaza Pachulia as their starting center.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Similar to L.A. with Kobe, this could be the final hurrah for Dirk Nowitzki, arguably the best European to ever play in the NBA. Unlike Kobe, however, Dirk is still producing at a high clip, averaging over 17 PPG last year. His game alone is worth watching Dallas play.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: As important as Dirk is, the playoff hopes in Dallas rely on its highly questionable backcourt. Newcomers Deron Williams and Wesley Matthews take over, and while each is highly talented, the questions linger for both: Matthews because of his terrible injury suffered last season, and Williams because he doesn’t always seem motivated. If these two guards are rusty at all, it could be a tough year in Dallas.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: Realizing they’re really just a talented big-man away from being a solid team, Dallas barely misses out on the playoffs, but Dirk signs a one-year contract to come back for one more run in the big D. Cuban won’t land prized free agent Kevin Durant, but will get a big man to help Dirk make a playoff run in 2016-17.
8) Utah Jazz
Only 8 teams in the league won 19 or more games after the All-Star break last year, and one of them was the Jazz. Their 38-44 record last year wasn’t great, but if they were in the Eastern conference, they would’ve had the 8th seed in the playoffs.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The defense is stout (1st in the league last year in PPG allowed), but in need of help with Dante Exum’s season-ending injury. They’ve got good depth, and made a wise decision last year holding on to Gordon Hayward. They’re the youngest team in the league (no players has more than 5 years in the NBA), but have pretty much all of the same players back this year. Oh, and big man Rudy Gobert is a beast.
WHY YOU SHOULD CHANGE THE CHANNEL: The youth of the team will make mistakes. They don’t play a fast paced game by any means, just play efficiently. Their offensive output is among the league’s worst, so until that improves their entertainment value will be lackluster with no real superstar draw.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: The Jazz just missed out on the playoffs last season, but look primed to make a run this year. The Exum injury hurts, but the depth is good enough that the Jazz should sustain the backcourt and make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
7) New Orleans Pelicans
Despite being swept in the first round of the playoffs, you could sense something special brewing in New Orleans. Now with a new coach in the mix, Anthony Davis will have even more opportunity to shine and lead his team into a Western Conference playoff mainstay.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Few players in the league alter the game like Anthony Davis. He averages a double-double (25 PPG/10 RPG) and averages nearly 3 blocks per contest. He is the most dominant big man in the league already, and this will only be his third year. The Pelicans have a talented back court as well in Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon. There’s a reason this team won 45 games last year.
WHY YOU SHOULD TURN THE CHANNEL: For the brief moments Davis is on the bench, you’re permitted to switch to something else. But you won’t want to miss what this team does this year. Not to mention a solid bench lead by 6th Man candidate Tyreke Evans once he comes back from rehabbing from knee surgery.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: No team in the league needs a player as badly as the Pelicans need Anthony Davis. He is set to become one of the most versatile big men that has ever played in the NBA, and that’s why he’ll end up as this season’s MVP winner, ahead of even Lebron James or Stephen Curry.
6) Memphis Grizzlies
If you’ve watched the Memphis Grizzlies play at all the past few years, you know this about them: they’re the most frustrating team for anyone to play. Why? Their defensive intensity. But as this team gets older, is their window for winning a title beginning to close?
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Like I said, the defensive tenacity is tremendous. Few pieces have changed from last year, meaning Tony Allen, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol will all be ready to pick up where they left off from last year’s playoff run. Plus there's always a chance of a J.T. sighting.
WHY YOU SHOULD TURN THE CHANNEL: Memphis is efficient, ranking in the top 10 in field goal percentage. They were 2nd in the league in points allowed. But beyond Mike Conley, there is no flashy offensive player that really makes you excited. Z-Bo is a presence inside, but Memphis is a grit team, not a finesse team.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: With Tony Allen being an offensive liability and a free agent after the 2016-17 season, the Grizzlies decide to trade him for some offensive firepower either at the trade deadline or next offseason.
5) Oklahoma City Thunder
Mark this down now: the 2015-16 season will be the most important one so far for the OKC franchise. This is the one where both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at healthy. It’s the one where new coach Billy Donovan will face his biggest recruiting battle ever: trying to keep Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It’s pretty straight forward: the Thunder are one of the best teams in the league, and have the best duo in the NBA in Durant and Westbrook. They’ve gained depth in the roster over the past few seasons, and can rotate 10 each night if needed to give the big two a break. They’ve got their work cut out for them in the West, but are a ton of fun to watch.
WHY YOU SHOULD TURN THE CHANNEL: Because you hate basketball apparently?
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: The Thunder could win the NBA Title, but with a brand new coach to the NBA and a treacherous playoff run through a top heavy Western Conference, I don’t see that happening. What will happen, however, is the charm of Billy Donovan wearing off on Kevin Durant, and he will sign no less than a 2 year deal to stay with OKC.
4) San Antonio Spurs
The best franchise in sports doesn’t know how to quit being great. In an offseason after losing to the Clippers in one of the greatest games in recent playoff history, the Spurs went out and brought in two veterans that will help take them deep into the playoffs: Lamarcus Aldridge and David West.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: Good basketball is fun. Basketball played to perfection is beautiful. The Spurs play a style that is beautiful to watch and wonderful for the kids to learn from. This could be the last season for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. You need to watch the Spurs this season.
WHY YOU SHOULD TURN THE CHANNEL: Again, because you hate basketball?
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: Despite winning it just two years ago, Spurs’ GM R.C. Buford will once again take home the title of NBA Executive of the Year. The Spurs will fall in the Western Conference semis. Or what’s more likely is that they’ll defy all odds and win the NBA Title. Never, ever count out the Spurs.
3) Houston Rockets
It’s hard to look at the Rocket’s roster and not pick them to win the NBA title. The roster is deep at every position, and boasts one of the premier guards in the game (James Harden) and big man extraordinaire Dwight Howard. Can the egos of these two superstars work to guide the Rockets to the promised land?
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: The depth of the Rockets will give them reason to be confident in every game they play. The addition of Sam Dekker in the draft provides a shooting presence in the front court, while utilizing K.J. McDaniels off the bench adds offensive explosion. Barring any major injury, the Rockets will win 60 games this year.
WHY YOU SHOULD TURN THE CHANNEL: If you don’t like the egotistical Dwight Howard, who whines after calls and is even having to sit out the first game of this year because of too many flagrant fouls last year, then maybe the Rockets aren’t for you.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: In an act of solidarity with his team, James Harden will shave off his beard for the playoff run, which finds the Rockets losing out in the Western Conference semis again.
2) Golden State Warriors
As the old saying goes, why fix what isn’t broken? The Golden State Warriors had a quiet offseason. Very little movement on the roster, which is a good thing. The defending champs will be back in full force with all pieces in place to make a repeat run.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: It’s the most dynamic offensive team you may have ever seen. And because you never know when Klay Thompson might do this again. They play well on both sides of the ball, ranking 2nd in overall offense and 1st in defense. The Warriors are instant entertainment.
WHY YOU SHOULD TURN THE CHANNEL: The Warriors have so many weapons they seem to cover each other if someone is having an off night. If Curry is struggling, Klay Thompson goes crazy. If both backcourt guys are off a bit, Draymond Green will take over. Even in the Finals, the 6th best player on the team won the Finals MVP. There is no good reason to not watch the Warriors.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: As good as the Warriors are, it’s tough to repeat in this league. That’s why they’ll fall just short, losing to the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals.
1) L.A. Clippers
Doc Rivers learned something important after their 7 game loss in the second round of the playoffs to the Houston Rockets: whatever you do, don’t let Deandre Jordan leave. Even if he can’t hit a free throw, he’s a huge (literally) piece to the Clippers title hopes. Lob City has arguably the best top-to-bottom roster in the NBA. Adding key vet with playoff experience Paul Pierce doesn’t hurt either.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH: This is the most fun team in the entire league to watch. This is how you envisioned yourself as a kid playing on a Nerf hoop inside the house dunking over every imaginary player trying to get in your way. The Clipper play NBA Jam ball. They’re called Lob City for a reason, and that reason is Chris Paul launching alley-oops to Blake Griffin like cheerleaders launch lousy giveaways during timeouts.
WHY SHOULD YOU TURN THE CHANNEL: Because you’re an idiot.
CRAZY STUPID PREDICTION: When Doc Rivers was with Paul Pierce in Boston, they won two Eastern Conference titles and a NBA title. Doc has had talent for years now in LA, but not even Chris Paul is the on-the-court leader that Pierce is. Now with that undeniable influence and one of the deepest, well-rounded rosters in the league, the Clippers will upset the Cleveland Cavs to win their first ever NBA Title.