The 2017 NBA off season has been one of the craziest off seasons in history. Kyrie Irving is a Celtic, Carmelo Anthony might join the Houston Rockets, Chris Paul is a Rocket! Paul George and Jimmy Butler moved out west. George joined the MVP Russell Westbrook on the Thunder, and Butler joined Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins on the Timberwolves. With all this craziness, we should see some playoff excitement, but first, let’s take a look at next year’s projected western conference playoffs, along with the ninth seed for perspective.
1. Golden State Warriors
Projected Record: 68-14
Yes, I know this makes everyone miserable. However, it is impossible to say the Warriors will not be the first seed. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry bring their MVP skills and an essentially unstoppable offensive force. Even if Durant and Curry are off their game, they have Klay Thompson, who scored 60 points in only three quarters. On defense, they have reigning Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green, along with Thompson being one of the better on ball defenders in the NBA. The “Dubs” were also able to add sharpshooters Nick Young and Omri Casspi to make what is maybe the best shooting team ever. Yeah, congrats on winning the 2018 NBA championship Warriors.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Projected Record: 65-17
This offseason the Spurs signed free agent small forward, Rudy Gay to a two year contract. Gay will come off the bench behind superstar Kawhi Lenord. Gay averaged 19 points, six rebounds and three assists on 45% shooting from the field. San Antonio also retained veteran center Pau Gasol. The point guard situation is not ideal, but Tony Parker is still a good experienced playmaker. The main reason the Spurs will still be the two seed is coaching legend, Gregg Popovich. Though Coach Pop was not named coach of the year, he is in the running every year and is a vital part of the Spurs.
3. Houston Rockets
Projected Record: 62-20
Though, a Carmelo Anthony trade can put the Rockets ahead of the Spurs, Melo is still a New York Knick. With that being said, a Chris Paul and James Harden back court can be very dangerous. Paul will help elevate the offensive ratings to a Rockets team that was already second in offensive ratings. Paul is also one of the best defensive point guards the NBA has. This is perfect for the Rockets as they were on the bottom half in almost every defensive rating last season. The addition of Luc Mbah a Moute can also help elevate the defensive ratings. This Rockets team could very well be the only threat the Warriors have in the Western conference playoffs.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected Record: 57-25
Last year, the Thunder learned what it is like to not have a premier small forward in the NBA. Kevin Durant betrayed his friends to go to their enemy to become full of himself and win a championship. Yeah, nobody forgot what you did yet Kevin. The Thunder fans now have to forget what it feels like to have a well below average small forward. This offseason they acquired Paul Geroge in a trade deal that made the Pacers the laughing stock of the NBA. The Pacers got Victor Oladipo and Domontas Sabonis and nothing else. This was a steal for the Thunder. OKC now has Paul George to team up with the MVP. Russ and George have a good supporting cast around them, too, with Steven Adams and Enes Kanter. They also have Andre Robertson’s defense.
5. Denver Nuggets
Projected Record: 53-29
Maybe nobody expected this one, however the Nuggets should be expected to show up this year. Nikola Jokic is back after a breakout year, and he is ready to lead Denver. They also still have “the Manimal”, Kenneth Faried. Emmanuel Mudiay has not proved much as the point guard, but he is entering his third season and can provide good defense and passing. Jamal Murray has shown promise as a premier shooter at the shooting guard position. Gary Harris and Will Barton are also good players off the bench.
The big move here, though, was signing Paul Millsap. Millsap provides much needed defense. The Nuggets were 29th in defensive rating last year, so Millsap is the perfect addition. The offense is there for Denver, all they need is the defense. With Mudiay, Millsap, Faried, and Jokic improving, there’s a chance the Nuggets take a big leap this year and sneak into the western conference playoffs.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
Projected Record: 50-32
Yes the Clips lost Chris Paul, yes Blake Griffin is injury prone, and yes they lost JJ Reddick and Jamal Crawford. This does not mean the Clippers will be a bad team next year. The Clips signed Milos Teodosic, who was Chris Paul of the Spanish League. They also received Louis Williams in the Paul trade, who is better than both Reddick and Crawford. They also received Patrick Beverley, one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA.
If Griffin stays healthy, he will be the focal point of the offense. Last time Blake Griffin was “the man” on offense, he averaged his career high, which was his rookie year. If Blake can do this in his rookie year when he is the first man on offense, we may see a big jump in his game. With Blake playing at this level and Deandre Jordan protecting the rim, the Clippers should be fine next season.
7. Portland Trail Blazers
Projected Reocrd: 48-34
The Blazers shocked the world in the 2015-16 season and were the fourth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They were expected to stay there, but ended up falling off somewhat. The threatening back court of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are everything you want in a back court. Lillard brings the all around skill on both sides of the floor, while McCollum brings the excellent offense and shooting. Al-Farouq Aminu was rated second on real defensive plus minus, ahead of NBA Stars LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kawhi Leonard. Zach Collins showed promise to be a serviceable power forward in the NBA. Jusuf Nurkic broke out in Portland and is a force in the paint on both sides of the floor. Off the bench they have Mo Harkless who is a danger from beyond the arc. This Trail Blazers team, especially with having Nurkic the whole year, should improve.
8. Utah Jazz
Projected Record: 46-36
Along with the Nuggets, this is somewhat of a bold prediction for the western conference playoffs. The Jazz lost their star, Gordon Hayward, to Boston in free agency. This could be the story of a team effort all season though. Rudy Gobert is now the face of the franchise. Rudy broke out this year as a defensive anchor and a good low post scorer. Gobert had the highest rating on defense within 6ft of the rim. Along with Rudy Gobert, they have Derrick Favors. Favors had a down year falling from sixteen points, to nine points, and eight rebounds to six rebounds. This was partially due to his usage going from 24 to 20. Now that Hayward is gone, Favors, who is only 26, may be able to jump back up to 16 points a night.
The Jazz also traded Trey Lyles and a late first round pick for the 12th pick, where they took Donovan Mitchell. In the summer league, Mitchell was both scoring and defending the ball very well. Utah also lost George Hill and acquired Ricky Rubio. This leaves more scoring up for grabs between Ingles, Gobert, Mitchell and Favors. If Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, and Rudy Gobert work together on offense, they can out play this projection also. This looks like one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. If they can score the ball, watch out NBA, this is a young, defensive team that works together.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves
Finally, the team that just misses the western conference playoffs. Honestly, Minnesota could be as good as the fourth seed this year, but there is a lot to say that the western conference playoffs won’t see the Wolves for the 14th straight year. Everyone thinks it is a lock between Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. First of all, Butler has been the bonafide leader of a team the past two years. The first year, Chicago was a 9th seed, with Derrick Rose mostly healthy. The next year, they were an 8th seed. Jimmy Butler has not proven he can lead a team. Butler, Towns, and Wiggins will all want to be the leader. This is different from the Warriors, as there is no team that has more fun on the court than the Warriors… ever.
The Wolves also are not well rounded, as they do not have one player who is above the NBA average in 3-point percentage. Towns, Butler and Wiggins are their three best players, and all of them are mostly inside scorers. Basically Wiggins is Jimmy Butler, the only difference is that it looks like Wiggins is being paid by gamblers to let his man score on him.
NBA.com uses stats to rate players’ general defense. Out of 486 players, Wiggins was 241st, most of the players listed were guys who lived on the bench. Out of the same list, Towns was rated 267th. Jeff Teague was listed 99th, which is decent (by the mid 200s, some of the players are worse at basketball than Lance Thomas, so wow, dropoff). Taj Gibson was 105, which is decent. Jimmy was 12th, which is excellent. Basically, the Wolves are at best a top 20 defensive team, and a top 25 three point shooting team. A team that can’t shoot or defend, while other teams in the West got better, will not be in the western conference playoffs.