The 2016-2017 NBA season is about to begin. I think we all know who every expert, analysis, writer, blogger, fan, you name it…is picking to win the West and probably win it all. It comes as no surprise that the Golden State Warriors top everyone’s list. After them is where things can change up a bit.
Let’s break it down. Here’s my NBA Western Conference season preview in order of what their projected outlook will look like.
1. Golden State Warriors (1st, 73-9 last season)
Stephen Curry. Klay Thompson. Kevin Durant. Draymond Green. It’s almost not fair that the Warriors were able to form the super team of super teams this season, but it has happened. You can’t forget that their depth ain’t too shabby either with Andre Iguodala, David West, Shaun Livingston, and JaVale McGee coming off the bench. It’s nearly impossible to think this team won’t win the West and probably the NBA Finals. Injuries are the only thing standing in the way of this Warriors team from getting revenge next June.
2. San Antonio Spurs (2nd, 67-15 last season)
It’s going to be odd watching the Spurs without seeing the Big Fundamental out there. There isn’t much that will change though even without Tim Duncan in San Antonio. They went out and replaced him with Pau Gasol. That frontcourt of Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Gasol should be lethal to go along with Tony Parker, Danny Green, and Manu Ginobili. Gregg Popovich has the depth and talent to have this team right behind the Warriors once again and in a dogfight come Western Conference Finals time.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (4th, 53-29 last season)
There’s no doubt that the Los Angeles Clippers have the talent on the roster to be an elite NBA team. Their hope is that everyone stays healthy and they can put it all together. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul will be playing for huge contracts as they can become free agents after the season. Paul Pierce is playing in his final season. They have shooters in J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford. Their ‘big three’ is enough to get them 50-plus wins again and a chance to get past the Spurs.
4. Memphis Grizzlies (7th, 42-40 last season)
The Grizzlies key this season will be having everyone healthy. They were missing key contributors for a good part of last season. The Grizzlies added Chandler Parsons to the mix to go along with Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph, who begins the season as their sixth man. If Parsons can live up to the $94 million contract they gave him, this should be a good team, which is led by their top 5 defense.
5. Portland Trail Blazers (5th, 44-38 last season)
The Trail Blazers go as Damian Lillard goes. Allen Crabbe and C.J. McCollum burst out on the scene last season to provide some help for their franchise point guard. The player to watch this season is Evan Turner, who they need to provide a spark off the bench. Portland also added Festus Ezeli to give their frontcourt a bit more depth. The Blazers have plenty of young talent, but should finish right around where they did last year.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (3rd, 55-27 last season)
The Thunder are the obvious choice here to take a dip in the standings. Losing Durant will make this team a first-round playoff exit…that can potentially miss the playoffs if they lose Russell Westbrook to an injury. The franchise point guard gets a bit of backcourt help with Victor Oladipo in the mix, but the rest of the Thunder depth outside of Steven Adams/Enes Kanter is questionable. It’s going to be hit-or-miss for the Thunder this year, but they should be good enough to make the playoffs.
7. Dallas Mavericks (6th, 42-40 last season)
The Mavericks playoff chances may fall on the shoulders of their big offseason signing, Harrison Barnes. He’ll get a chance to play a significant role in Dallas along with newest Mav Andrew Bogut. It’s yet to be seen if this will be Dirk Nowitzki’s final year, but that frontcourt should be formidable if they live up to expectations. They get Wesley Matthews back from injury to play alongside Deron Williams, who is also a year older. On paper, the Mavericks should make the playoffs and finish right around where they did last year.
8. Utah Jazz (9th, 40-42 last season)
A lot of people are very high on the Utah Jazz this season…like 47-win high. That’s a bit much for me, but I do think they sneak into that last playoff spot after adding some key players. The additions of George Hill, Joe Johnson, and Boris Diaw give this young Jazz team the veterans they desperately needed. They have enough pieces to get into the playoffs for sure. They’ll need Gordon Hayward to get back from his finger injury as soon as possible, though.
Josh Eberley of HOOPS Mag joined me on The Jake Brown Show on Play.it last week to preview the Western Conference.
OUTSIDE OF PLAYOFFS:
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (13th, 29-53 last season)
Two words…Tom. Thibodeau. For a young team, this was the perfect hire for the Minnesota Timberwolves. With Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins leading the way to go along with rookie Kris Dunn, this should be a fun team to watch. I have them on the outside looking in because they lack any true veteran presence or elite shooter. They should definitely improve, but they are one year away from the playoffs.
10. Houston Rockets (8th, 41-41 last season)
It’s hard to believe Mike D’Antoni is back and he’s coaching the Houston Rockets. James Harden now has Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson to help in the scoring department on a team that will be built on offense. Defense will likely be optional for the D’Antoni-led Rockets. They should take a bit of a dip this season because of that.
11. New Orleans Pelicans (12th, 30-52 last season)
Anthony Davis and Buddy Hield…that’s the extent of excitement for the New Orleans Pelicans this season. This roster screams mediocrity and they are an injury away from their franchise player from potentially slipping even more. This young Pelicans team is still a year or two from playoff contention.
12. Sacramento Kings (10th, 33-49 last season)
Dave Joerger will now get passed the Tylenol from George Karl. The Kings have talent, but are young and led by the always disgruntled DeMarcus Cousins and always troubled Ty Lawson. Matt Barnes joins the squad as well, but no Rihanna to save the Kings. Rudy Gay could turn into a trade piece before the deadline. We’ll see some more growing pains for the Kings this season.
13. Denver Nuggets (11th, 33-49 last season)
The Nuggets find themselves in a pretty similar situation as last year, but adding rookie Jamal Murray. There are some good, young pieces here as Nikola Jokic could become the franchise player in Denver, but still a ton of experimenting to be done for a team that is about two years from seeing the playoffs.
14. Phoenix Suns (14th, 23-59 last season)
The growth of Devin Booker will be the real bright spot to watch in Phoenix this season. Other than that, the Suns just don’t have much depth. They have a nice backcourt with Booker, Eric Bledose, and Brandon Knight, but the frontcourt has question marks. Expect another long season for them.
15. Los Angeles Lakers (15th, 17-65 last season)
It’s going to be another rough season for Lakers fans, but at least they can watch rookie Brandon Ingram. D’Angelo Russell still isn’t beloved by his teammates after the whole Snapchat Nick Young incident and that could continue to provide issues. There will be many more headaches in Lakers land this year as they finish in the cellar of the Western Conference.
Jake Brown is the Digital Program Manager at CBS Sports Radio and a columnist for CBS Sports Radio, CBS Local Sports, and CBS Local. You can catch him daily on The Jake Brown Show on CBS Radio’s Play.it, iTunes, and Spotify. It’s a weekly sports show mixed in with a bit of entertainment and multiple interviews as well every week. Jake lives in Queens and being a Mets fan is finally paying off.