With NBA free agency coming to a close, it seems like the star-studded and dominant Western Conference has become even stronger. It’s going to be a very interesting season that could have a lot of viable Western Conference teams praying for a playoff spot at the end of the season. Here are my predictions of how the standings are going to shake out in the West.
1st Seed: Golden State Warriors
2017 Results: 58-24, 2nd Seed
Everyone around the NBA aside from Warriors fans hates to say it, but the back-to-back champions got even better this offseason. Demarcus Cousins signed a 1 year deal with the Warriors after he reportedly didn’t receive any calls from other teams during free agency. He says that this is his last option and a way for him to prove his doubters wrong. Cousins ruptured his achilles back in February, which was the main reason behind the crickets surrounding him in free agency. Cousins is expected to return by the all-star break, but he believes that he has a shot to come back around December. Either way, the Warriors will have four perennial all-stars on the court until he comes back so they will be just fine. Once he does, I expect Boogie to prove his doubters wrong and play well with the Warriors. Once he gets a groove, he will help the Warriors finish the season strong heading into the playoffs. Let’s face it, by adding Cousins and being able to put a lineup of five all-stars together on one court, the Warriors deserve their own tier.
2018 Prediction: 64-18
2nd Seed: Houston Rockets
2017 Results: 65-17, 2nd Seed
The Rockets were able to re-sign Chris Paul and Clint Capela, which was a big win for the Rockets this offseason. Perhaps the biggest lost outside of LeBron James of this offseason was Trevor Ariza leaving for Phoenix. I don’t think Rockets fans realize how much of an impact Ariza made on the court. He was a big reason why the Rockets were such a great defensive team. Specifically, when he guarded Kevin Durant in the Western Conference Finals last year, that was a huge part of how they were able to contest with the Warriors. In addition, his ability to knock down open threes on passes from Paul and Harden was tremendous. Not only that, but they also lost their backup small forward, Luc Mbah a Moute, who played a similar role to Ariza coming off the bench. They instead will replace them with a washed-up Carmelo Anthony. Before Rockets fans start to fantasize about Carmelo being the piece to win them a championship, ask Thunder fans how Melo was last season. He had the worst season of his career, shooting much worse than Ariza and playing terrible defense. As a result, I expect the Rockets to fall off a bit, but still be able to secure the 2nd seed out West.
2018 Prediction: 57-25
3rd Seed: Oklahoma City Thunder
2017 Results: 48-34, 4th Seed
After re-signing Paul George and sending Carmelo out of town, I believe the Thunder are going to make some noise in the Western Conference this year. Not only did they play better with Melo off the floor, but Westbrook and George have had a year now to build some chemistry. Plus, they won’t have a washed-up player who can’t make shots barking in their ears about giving him touches. They also added Dennis Schroder in the Melo trade, who averaged 19.6 PPG and 6.2 APG for the Hawks last season. Schroder has a chance to win the Sixth-Man of the Year award if he’s able to accept his role and play to his potential. That being said, I think the Thunder will surprise people this year and the George-Westbrook duo will prove to be a nice pairing.
2018 Prediction: 53-29
4th Seed: Los Angeles Lakers
2017 Results: 35-47, 11th Seed
The Lakers did it. They signed LeBron James and have rejuvenated the franchise after many tough seasons since the decline of Kobe Bryant. They also went out and added what people are calling the “Meme Team”: Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, and Michael Beasley. Not only that, but they were able to retain most of their young assets like Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart. Even though LeBron might be the only all-star on this team, I believe it is a big step up from the 50 win Cavaliers team LeBron took to the Finals last year. This will be the first time in over 10 years that LeBron does not have championship expectations, and I predict that he will prove a lot of people wrong and lead the Lakers into first-round homecourt advantage this season. Once LeBron and the Lakers are able to get past the first few months of getting used to playing with one another, I believe that they will finish the season very well and could ride that momentum into the playoffs.
2018 Prediction: 52-30
5th Seed: San Antonio Spurs
2017 Results: 47-35, 7th Seed
While the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard this offseason, they were able to bring in Demar DeRozan in the trade. A lot of people forget how good this Spurs team was without Kawhi all of last season. The fact that they were able to win 47 games and get the 7th seed in the highly-competitive Western Conference is mind-boggling. I believe DeRozan will make them better this season by adding the type of scoring that they needed down the stretch of games last season. However, since the Western Conference is so ridiculously great, it’s still going to be tough for them to really get into that next tier of teams.
2018 Prediction: 50-32
6th Seed: Portland Trailblazers
2017 Results: 48-34, 7th Seed
The Trailblazers finished 3rd in the Western Conference last season, which was a bit of surprise to most NBA fans. They were, however, a mere three games from completely missing the playoffs. The Blazers only added Seth Curry and re-signed Jusuf Nurkic this offseason. Other than that, they didn’t add or lose any pieces that are going to shake their team. Other teams in the conference got much better, but since the Blazers failed to add any major players to keep up, I expect them to fall a few spots in the standings. With Lillard and McCollum, they will still be able to compete well but I don’t expect too much out of them this season.
2018 Prediction: 48-34
7th Seed: Utah Jazz
2017 Results: 48-34, 5th Seed
The Jazz did not do much this offseason, as they only re-signed Derrick Favors and Dante Exum. They did draft Grayson Allen, but that just won’t be enough to keep up with the ever-improving Western Conference. They still have a solid team built around Gobert, Rubio, and Mitchell but without adding any new pieces, they are lagging behind teams who got significantly better this season. Their best bet is that Donavan Mitchell makes a huge leap in his sophomore season, which would be tough given how well he played last year.
2018 Prediction: 48-34
8th Seed: Denver Nuggets
2017 Results: 46-36, 9th Seed
The Nuggets were a surprisingly good team last season, as they just barely missed the playoffs in a battle for the 3-8 seeds. They were just three games out of the third seed. They did lose Wilson Chandler, but I believe they improved this offseason. With the addition of Isaiah Thomas and the improvement of their young players, I believe they will inch their way into the playoffs this year. Their core of Millsap, Barton, Harris, and Jokic is also still intact. Thomas, like Boogie Cousins, is a proven all-star that was plagued by injuries and trades and has a chip on his shoulder. While we might not see MVP-Candidate Thomas like he was on the Celtics, I expect him to make teams regret not picking him up in free agency and lead the Nuggets into the playoffs for the first time since Carmelo left.
2018 Prediction: 48-34
9th Seed: New Orleans Pelicans
2017 Results: 48-34, 6th Seed
The Pelicans had a tremendous year last year, making it to the second round and finally seeming to get over the hump. However, they lost Rajon Rondo this offseason, who was a big part of their playoff performance. Even though they seemed to play better without Cousins, they will still miss him as he most likely would’ve helped them in their run last season. He was starting to play well with them as he and Anthony Davis put up monster numbers. They did add Julius Randle, who will be a nice piece next to Anthony Davis, but their losses outweigh that. I believe that this team could be a top-four team in the Eastern Conference, but since the Western Conference is so competitive in this tier, I think they might be the team that just misses the cut.
2018 Prediction: 47-35
10th Seed: Dallas Mavericks
2017 Results: 24-58, 13th Seed
The Mavericks went out and picked up DeAndre Jordan during free agency and traded up in the draft to snag the EuroBasket MVP Luka Doncic. Last season, 41 of their 58 losses were determined by 10 points or less. Simply put, the Mavericks could not finish games last season. While watching them, they did not look like a 13th seed team, but they ended up like that because they couldn’t seem to win close games. With the addition of Doncic, a proven winner overseas, and DeAndre Jordan, I expect the Mavericks to be able to close out a much larger percentage of those game and try to put up a fight for a playoff spot. Ultimately, the Western Conference is just too good and the Mavericks will fall short of the playoffs for the third year in a row.
2018 Prediction: 40-42
11th Seed: Los Angeles Clippers
2017 Results: 42-40, 10th Seed
During free agency, the Clippers traded Austin Rivers for Marcin Gortat and signed Luc Mbah a Moute. Altogether, I think these moves even out, and won’t make them much better than they were last season. However, since the Western Conference seemed to get much better this offseason and they will now have to face LeBron James four times, I think they will fall off a bit. Lou Williams is also not getting any younger and neither is Marcin Gortat.
2018 Prediction: 38-44
12th Seed: Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Results: 47-35, 8th Seed
Oh, the dramatic Timberwolves. While last season seemed like a success for the young team, reports came out this offseason that many of the veteran players, like Jimmy Butler, had issues with the younger players. The younger guys were said to be lazy and not willing to do what it takes to win. With trouble in paradise and Jimmy Butler turning down his contract extension, I would expect the Timberwolves to have some underlying problems that will translate to issues on the court. Not to mention, they did not even make any moves in the offseason to improve.
2018 Prediction: 34-48
13th Seed: Memphis Grizzlies
2017 Results: 22-60, 14th Seed
The Grizzlies added Kyle Anderson from the Spurs and drafted Jaren Jackson Jr. this offseason. After a rough year last year, I expect Memphis to be similar to where they were last year. With Mike Conley and Marc Gasol back and healthy, they will win a few more games. Kyle Anderson is not someone who is going to make a pivotal impact in the standings for you, and Jaren Jackson Jr. is very much a prospect. Of the top picks, he will definitely seem to have the lowest numbers in his rookie season even though he just might have a higher ceiling. With the stacked Western Conference, the Grizzlies are going to have yet another tough season.
2018 Prediction: 30-52
14th Seed: Phoenix Suns
2017 Results: 21-61, 10th Seed
The Phoenix Suns had one of the best offseasons in the NBA this year. Not only did they draft Deandre Ayton with the first overall pick, they also drafted Mikal Bridges and picked up Trevor Ariza in free agency. With a lineup featuring Knight, Booker, Jackson, Ariza, and Ayton, they will make a leap this year from being the worst team in the NBA. I believe adding Ariza will especially be great for the younger players, who can learn from a veteran like Ariza. I expect them to make strides this year, and show how they are a good young team that the NBA should look out for in the future, but that they aren’t there just yet.
2018 Prediction: 28-54
15th Seed: Sacremento Kings
2017 Results: 27-55, 12th Seed
The Kings did not make much of any noise in the offseason, as they only drafted Marvin Bagley III with the second pick in the draft. Bagley is a great player, but since the Kings weren’t able to add anyone else, I expect them to fall to the last place in the standings. This is not a knock against the Kings, but simply a result of teams ahead of them improving more than they were able to. Going forward, I expect the Kings to get a great draft pick from this poor season to add a player that will compliment Bagley in the future.