This team that won 73 games last season essentially replaced Harrison Barnes with Kevin Durant. They are supremely talented, they share the ball, and they are well coached. They can challenge their win record from last season, without even making it a priority. The bench could be a concern, but they still have Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, and they have some young, unproven players that the organization likes. Statistically, rebounding will be the major weakness, but few teams in the West can expose them there.
- San Antonio
The familiar Spurs signed Pau Gasol to replace the retired Tim Duncan which offensively could be an upgrade, but defensively Duncan will be missed. The Spurs believe Kyle Anderson can fill the role left behind by Boris Diaw. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are slowing down, but Kawhi Leonard is still one of the best players in the world. Wing Jonathan Simmons could breakout and give the backcourt a boost of energy.
Blake Griffin had a disastrous season last year; expect a bounce-back year from the All-NBA forward. The bench is still spotty, but coach Doc Rivers can squeeze a lot out of what he has. This team is getting very old, but perhaps some guys will sense that and create some urgency. On the floor this team might be the best matchup to take down the Warriors.
The Blazers are looking to build off their momentum from last year. The backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can play with anyone. The addition of Evan Turner could really strengthen the bench unit. The energy created by the young players and coach Terry Stotts is impressive.
- Oklahoma City
This is Russell Westbrook’s team now, and he says he likes his team. The addition of Victor Oladipo is helpful. Westbrook, Oladipo, and Andre Roberson have menacing potential as a perimeter defensive unit. Coach Billy Donovan will have to push them to reach that potential to make up for that group’s lack of perimeter shooting on the other end. Outside shooting will be a problem overall with the loss of Durant and Serge Ibaka. Rebounding will not be an issue, as Steven Adams and Enes Kanter are back to terrorize opponents. Rookie Domantas Sabonis has the ingredients to stand out.
The Rockets have a new coach in Mike D’Antoni, and they will try to run opponents out of the gym like his old Suns teams did. James Harden will lead the offense and put up incredible numbers. Despite all the focus being on the offense, defensively sound players like Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Corey Brewer, and K.J. McDaniels will try to keep the Rockets competent on that end of the floor. This team will be tough but they are built for the regular season more than the postseason.
The Mavericks still cannot seem to make the big offseason acquisition that they desire to leap back into contention, but the quiet additions of Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut will help. Those two round out a good starting five, but the bench is very suspect. Rick Carlisle is an effective coach making this team still playoff-worthy, but not a threat to win the West.
The Jazz are primed for a significant improvement, but the injury to their best player Gordon Hayward will stunt that improvement early on. The additions of veterans Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson will help this team climb into the playoffs, but the playing time carved out by their numerous intriguing young players will determine exactly how good the Jazz become.
The Grizzlies’ window may have closed. They employ a handful of injury-prone players, and they are counting on a few players well over 30 years of age. New coach David Fizdale will have to inject a new energy into this club for them to return to the playoffs.
This is the team of the future, but they are still a year away from making significant noise. Karl Towns is a force, and Andrew Wiggins is a great complimentary player. New coach Tom Thibodeau will have this team playing hard, especially on the defensive end. Thibodeau will have to figure out the guard rotation with rookie Kris Dunn, talented but oft-injured Ricky Rubio, and enigmatic Zach LaVine.
- New Orleans
Anthony Davis, if he can stay healthy, will return to form as one of the best players in the league. The absence of starting point guard Jrue Holiday will hurt, and it is only compounded by the injury to Tyreke Evans. There are a lot of good young players on this team, but experiments in the backcourt like Tim Frazier, E’Twaun Moore, and most of all Lance Stephenson could get interesting. Rookie Buddy Hield will have a positive impact.
The Nuggets have a lot of talented young pieces, but it is unclear if they all fit together. It feels like this team needs to make a trade, perhaps sending away Danilo Gallinari or Kenneth Faried for some more young talent. The inside combination of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic could eventually become monstrous.
This team will be vastly improved, although it may not show up in the standings this year. The West is tough to make a rapid rise in the ranks, and this team has a lot of inexperience that could cost them late in close games. Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, and Brandon Ingram are all great pieces for the future. If D’Angelo Russell can figure it out, they will surprise a lot of people. Luke Walton is the right coach too, to get this team on the right track.
DeMarcus Cousins, when engaged, is still one of the best players in the league, an unstoppable offensive force. New coach Dave Joerger has a nice history of getting the most out of his players, but Cousins will be a new challenge. The Kings have some players who give off the vibe that they do not want to be there, and that is obviously toxic. Willie Cauley-Stein has the potential to make a leap, and now is the time. The Kings are looking at another transition year as they try to build some momentum going forward.
The Suns seem to have mortgaged the present for the future, hiring a new young coach in Earl Watson, and drafting two teen forwards in June. Devin Booker has the potential to be a great young player, but it is difficult to envision this team winning a lot of games this season.