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Ranking the Western Conference
Posted By Derek Page On October 30, 2012 @ 12:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
The moment we’ve been waiting for since LeBron James and the Miami HEAT raised the Larry O’Brien trophy over their heads this past July is finally upon us. The 2012-13 NBA season kicks off tonight and it promises to be highly interesting and entertaining.
After taking a look at how the Eastern Conference stacks up yesterday, let’s turn our attention to the brutal Western Conference.
Now that we’ve had a chance to see how newly constructed squads have meshed this preseason, it’s time to take out the crystal ball and predict how the West will look in 2012-13:
#15 New Orleans Hornets
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 25-57
What We Learned From the Preseason: New Orleans is in the process of building a solid core for the Hornets franchise, but there’s little doubt that it’s going to be just that – a process. The pieces are certainly in place for this team to be pretty good in the next couple of years, but these guys will need time to mature at the NBA level.
Top picks Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers are going to have their fair share of growing pains in their rookie year before becoming the pros they’re meant to be. The future looks bright in New Orleans, but the 2012-13 season seems destined to be a rough one in The Big Easy.
#14 Sacramento Kings
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 32-50
What We Learned From the Preseason: The duo of fifth overall pick Thomas Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins figures to be one of the top frontcourt tandems in the NBA for many years to come. Along with the frontcourt duo, the Kings overall looked great this October, finishing with a 5-2 overall preseason record that included three wins against the mighty Los Angeles Lakers.
This is why not much stock should be put into wins and losses during the preseason.
As with many of the prospective bottom-feeders in the West in 2013, the Kings have a young core that should be competitive once these guys get some seasoning. However, aside from the frontcourt, the Kings have a roster in flux with not many matching, cohesive pieces heading into the new season.
#13 Phoenix Suns
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 36-46
What We Learned From the Preseason: Even though the Suns have done a commendable job of trying to rebuild after the departure of Steve Nash this summer, it’s hard to imagine Phoenix competing in this year’s Western Conference. Don’t get me wrong, the team looks solid with the additions of former Houston Rockets Luis Scola and Goran Dragic, but it’s not going to be enough in the stacked West.
In terms of the wild cards, Michael Beasley played pretty well this October. Wes Johnson, who followed Beasley from Minnesota to Phoenix, continued to struggle. If Beasley can develop into a consistent performer and play up to the talent that made him the second overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, the Suns could find themselves within striking distance of a playoff spot in 2013.
There’s no question Phoenix has decent talent heading into this season, but it isn’t likely to be enough to vault past teams like Golden State, Utah or Minnesota in the West standings.
#12 Golden State Warriors
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 38-44
What We Learned From the Preseason: There’s no doubt that there’s plenty of talent residing in Oakland this season, but the injury history of each of their best players brings plenty of doubt as well. The starting five (when healthy) of Andrew Bogut, David Lee, seventh overall pick Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry will certainly give opposing coaches nightmares.
Heck, even the second unit of Andris Biedrins, Carl Landry, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush and Jarrett Jack could probably give some NBA teams fits.
The problem is that the two most important players on this team – Bogut and Curry – have a significant injury history that suggests they won’t be able to make it through an 82-game season. With the talent currently residing in the West, considerable stretches without either of those players would be a recipe for disaster for a Warriors team that will need those two in uniform to be successful.
#11 Houston Rockets
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 41-41
What We Learned From the Preseason: With the addition of James Harden, the Rockets have vaulted quite a few spots in terms of where they’ll finish in 2013. Combined with free agent acquisitions Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, along with a couple of top-20 picks in Terrence Jones and Royce White, the Rockets could surprise some teams in 2013.
With Harden and Lin in the backcourt, Houston has the potential to feature two dynamic distributors and scorers that will make life a whole lot easier for every other Rockets player. Specifically for Harden, this is his chance to prove that he is indeed a max-type player who is worthy of the big payday he is expected to get on a Rockets team that will be his to lead.
Expect Houston to give teams fits at times with its explosive guard play and to hover around the .500 mark for the majority of this season.
#10 Portland Trail Blazers
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 43-39
What We Learned From the Preseason: It’s not difficult to see LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard being at the forefront this season, but one player who has impressed this October has been Nicolas Batum. After a solid first five games, Batum closed out the preseason with a 17-point, 10-rebound, three-steal, two-block performance and a 27-point explosion in the final two contests against the Jazz. If Batum can play the way his talent suggests he can, Portland might be a lock for a playoff slot this season.
As it stands, it’s difficult to mark this Blazers team down as a definite postseason team with all of the question marks in Portland heading into the year.
Initially, it seemed like the reserve core had a chance to step up this preseason and prove it was ready to pick up the slack when the Blazers’ talented starting-five exited the action. This simply hasn’t happened.
Unless the bench in Portland can step it’s game up over the course of the 2012-13 season, the chances for a return to the postseason in Rip City look slim.
#9 Minnesota Timberwolves
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 45-37
What We Learned From the Preseason: The hope in Minnesota this season is that newcomer Brandon Roy can stay healthy and that Ricky Rubio can return quickly and perform at a high level after suffering a season ending injury in 2012.
That was before the T-Wolves lost franchise cornerstone Kevin Love for at least the first two weeks of the season due to a broken hand.
Rubio is expected to be out until late December at the earliest, while Love hopes to be back by late November. Each player’s replacement will be facing a heavy burden in their absence.
The second overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, Derrick Williams, and solid veteran Luke Ridnour will likely fill in for both Love and Rubio admirably. That being said, on their best day, neither is the caliber of a Love or Rubio and Minnesota is going to have to band together and fight in order to stay in the hunt with those two players out. Reserves Dante Cunningham and J.J. Barea, in particular, will also have to step up.
If they can survive the first couple of months of the season without a full deck, Minnesota has the talent to make a run and challenge for a playoff berth to close the season.
#8 Utah Jazz
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 45-37
What We Learned From the Preseason: A playoff squad this past season, Utah has the unfortunate luck of competing in the toughest and most competitive Western Conference in quite some time. Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors might represent the best frontcourt trio in basketball – and Favors still hasn’t reached his full potential.
Along with Favors, another third-year player in Gordon Hayward is expected to continue to develop after a solid 2012 campaign to form a solid young core in Utah.
With the talent in place, there’s no doubt that Utah will be right in the mix of the playoff hunt in the Western Conference going right down to the wire in 2013. Injuries in Minnesota and the uncertainty surrounding the new mix of players in Portland make Utah the favorite to snag one of the West’s final playoff seeds in 2013.
#7 Dallas Mavericks
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 47-35
What We Learned From the Preseason: Losing Dirk Nowitzki for possibly the first month of the season is going to be difficult for this remodeled Mavericks team to rebound from. Likely missing free agent acquisition, and starting center, Chris Kaman for the first few games of the season doesn’t help either.
O.J. Mayo and Darren Collison, the other two impact offseason acquisitions for the Mavericks, are going to have to hold down the fort with the starting frontcourt on the mend. Amnesty acquisition Elton Brand will also help in that regard, but there’s little doubt that Dallas is going to struggle without one of the 10 best players in the world in Nowitzki.
It’s going to be tough sledding for the Mavs out of the gate but, if they can hang around .500 until Nowitzki returns in mid-to-late November, Dallas will be in good shape for the rest of the year.
#6 Memphis Grizzlies
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 49-33
What We Learned From the Preseason: The loss of O.J. Mayo may not be a hot topic in Memphis, but the late-game heroics and scoring prowess of the Grizzlies’ former sixth man may prove more detrimental than expected. In his place, the Grizzlies are hoping Summer League standout Josh Selby and former T-Wolves guard Wayne Ellington can shoulder the scoring load off the bench.
In terms of the starters, Memphis is hoping to finally get dominant forwards Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay on the court together for a full season. If they can get those two players on the same page and working as a cohesive unit heading into the postseason, Memphis could be a dark horse to make a deep playoff run in the West.
#5 Denver Nuggets
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 50-32
What We Learned From the Preseason: Arguably the deepest team in the NBA, the Nuggets could easily find themselves in the top four in the West before the dust settles in 2013. Unfortunately for Denver, they’ve had to deal with injury issues to a couple of key cogs, and that depth became more of a need than a luxury.
With Andre Iguodala now in the fold and with JaVale McGee ready to start a full season with Denver, the Nuggets might have their most talented and explosive squad yet. Already the top scoring team in the NBA last season, Denver still has room to grow featuring eight regulars 26 years old and under.
The onus will be on Iguodala to bring a ferocity to the defensive end, where the Nuggets have struggled, but there’s little doubt that this team will be one of the most difficult outs come playoff time.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 52-30
What We Learned From the Preseason: Addressing an area that was an issue for the squad last season, the Clippers assembled one of the best reserve cores in the NBA this offseason. The additions of former starters Grant Hill, Jamal Crawford and a potentially rejuvenated Lamar Odom to go along with Eric Bledsoe provide the Clippers with a deep core that they simply didn’t have last season.
Compounding hopes is the fact that both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are a year older and wiser, while Chris Paul heads into the season as arguably the best point guard in the NBA. Health is going to be a key for this team as nagging injuries to Paul down the stretch last season crippled the Clippers in the playoffs.
They may not have caught the Lakers for L.A. supremacy quite yet, but the Clippers continue their trek into the upper-echelon of West teams.
#3 Oklahoma City Thunder
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 55-27
What We Learned From the Preseason: There’s no doubt that after trading away franchise cornerstone James Harden, Oklahoma City will be taking a step back next season. The return of Eric Maynor to the lineup after missing most of 2012 will help, and the hope is that Kevin Martin can stay healthy and productive as the team’s sixth man. However, the reality is that neither of these players are going to be able to replace what Harden brought to the table for the Thunder.
Harden’s energy, aggressiveness, athleticism and playmaking ability went hand in hand with a take-no-prisoners attitude that had the potential to completely turn a contest on its head upon him entering the game.
Still, we’re talking about a Thunder team that features two of the top 10 players in the NBA today in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Time will only tell how much the loss of the third amigo sets this team back with the Los Angeles Lakers looking entrenched as the superpower in the West.
#2 San Antonio Spurs
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 57-25
What We Learned From the Preseason: With an increasingly young and talented squad being developed around the likes of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, it’s difficult to count out the Spurs as one of the top two teams in the West for 2013.
Seemingly every season, fans and media alike continue to sleep on what is year after year one of the best teams in the NBA. Just last season, San Antonio battled Oklahoma City through six grueling Western Conference Finals games before the young Thunder advanced to their first Finals appearance.
There’s no doubt that the talent to win a title still resides in San Antonio. There’s plenty of depth to go along with a spectacular starting five that’s coached by arguably the best in the business in Gregg Popovich. It’s difficult to bet against the Spurs, but I don’t see any West squad knocking off the next team on this list.
#1 Los Angeles Lakers
Predicted 2012-13 Regular Season Record: 60-22
What We Learned From the Preseason: Even though they’ve had a rough go at it this preseason, the talent assembled on this Lakers squad is no doubt primed to finish as the top team in the West this season. Considering the money and effort mounted this offseason to bring in the likes of Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison, anything else would have to be considered a failure.
So then, what is in the way of a 17th championship in Lakers-land this season?
Kobe Bryant’s strained right foot heading into the season is somewhat disconcerting, as he could miss a game or two to start the year. However, other than Howard’s back issues this past year, none of the Lakers’ core heading into 2012-13 has dealt with serious injury issues in their career.
The best move L.A. made this offseason was to bring in Nash. Obviously Howard’s addition is huge and will propel the Lakers to great things this season and beyond, but Nash is going to be the player that makes this team go. As the floor general, Nash is the type of player who is going to make Los Angeles’ makeover gel much more seamlessly.
There’s no doubt, especially following Harden’s exodus from OKC, that the Lakers are the team to beat in the Western Conference.
Can the Lakers challenge the Miami HEAT and win it all this season? Stay tuned, hoops fans.
Are these predictions on the mark? Let your voice be heard in the comment section below!
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