With the 2023-24 NBA season set to start soon, here is where the Western Conference teams currently sit. Many of the teams in the West saw drastic changes, from the acquisition of superstars and drafting promising rookies to teams adding roster depth. From seasoned contenders to up-and-coming challengers, here are the potential trajectories of each team, assessing the strengths, weaknesses, and X-factors.
If you haven’t checked out the Eastern Conference Standings Predictions yet, then click here.
2023-24 Western Conference Predictions
1. The Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets return with renewed vigor following their historic first franchise championship win. However, it’s not an exact repeat, as they’ve seen vital bench players like Bruce Brown and Jeff Green depart in free agency. Despite this, Denver still boasts the formidable lineup of Jokic, Jamal Murray, and other top-tier players, giving them a solid chance at a repeat victory.
The Western Conference appears to be even more competitive than last season, with the three other conference semifinalist teams making significant improvements. Many eyes are on the Milwaukee Bucks, who have strengthened their roster with the addition of Damian Lillard, making them the frontrunners for the title.
Nevertheless, Denver’s core remains a force to be reckoned with, and the infusion of promising young talents like Julian Strawther, Jalen Pickett, and Hunter Tyson could provide an extra boost, making the Nuggets the team to beat until proven otherwise.
2. The Phoenix Suns
Two seasons after reaching the NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns initiated a revamp following consecutive second-round exits. This overhaul involved parting ways with coach Monty Williams and appointing Frank Vogel as the new head coach. The acquisition of Kevin Durant in February was a significant move, further elevating the team’s star power. In June, the Suns bolstered their lineup further by trading for Wizards star Bradley Beal, parting ways with veteran point guard Chris Paul. These strategic maneuvers position Phoenix as strong contenders for the 2023-24 championship, arguably being favored to clinch the title.
With a career-scoring average of 22.1 points, Beal significantly boosts the team’s offensive prowess as a potent third option. Despite being a traditional shooting guard, Beal is set to transition to the point guard role. Phoenix now boasts an offensive powerhouse with Durant, Booker, and Beal as the top three scoring options, setting the stage for a potential championship run.
The adjustment to Beal as a point guard could create more opportunities for newly acquired center Jusuf Nurkic, even though he might represent a slight downgrade from Deandre Ayton. However, concerns linger regarding the team’s depth and how seamlessly Beal can transition from shooting guard to point guard.
3. The Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James continues to defy father time, maintaining exceptional play, and remarkably, Anthony Davis has been able to stay relatively healthy. This resurgence has propelled the Lakers back into the realm of serious championship contenders. However, the team’s fate is perilously tied to the health of these prolific players, as an injury to either could shatter their championship aspirations.
The Lakers present a formidable threat for the NBA Finals when at full health. Their roster is both deep and versatile, boasting additional playmakers such as Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, and the newly acquired Gabe Vincent. The addition of Taurean Prince has further bolstered last season’s impressive performances by Rui Hachimura and Jarred Vanderbilt. Additionally, promising talents like Max Christie, Cam Reddish, and Christian Wood provide an added layer of depth.
Arguably, the supporting cast is even stronger compared to last season, when the team made it to the Western Conference Finals. This is likely LeBron James’ final significant opportunity to secure a fifth championship title, and the Lakers seem to be primed to do exactly that.
4. The Sacramento Kings
Opting to maintain their winning formula from the previous season was the right thing to do for the Kings. Their surprising success in finishing with an impressive 48-34 record and securing the West’s No. 3 seed after a 16-year playoff drought was a notable achievement. However, this time, they won’t catch anyone off guard, with the unanimous coach of the year winner, Mike Brown, leading a group that primarily requires more experience playing together.
While Domantas Sabonis received All-NBA honors for his contributions during the regular season, his limitations as a shooter and rim protector became apparent during the playoffs. There’s optimism that Sabonis can refine these aspects of his game, potentially addressing this concern. Sacramento has also strengthened its defensive potential by selecting Colby Jones, a versatile defender, in the draft. Furthermore, the possibility of Keegan Murray building on his stellar rookie season and impressive summer league performance adds to the team’s potential for improvement.
Guided by the leadership of Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox, the Kings are poised to be highly competitive. Should they succeed in enhancing their defensive capabilities, their hopes of advancing beyond the first round in the playoffs this season seem quite promising.
5. The Golden State Warriors
Golden State is approaching a crucial phase, nearing the conclusion of an era defined by the remarkable contributions of its core players. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green remain integral to the team, ensuring the Warriors remain a significant force. The franchise has enjoyed an extraordinary run, and now the challenge is to sustain that momentum into the future. The pressing question remains: when will this era conclude?
Chris Paul‘s arrival adds valuable experience and elite playmaking ability to the team’s backcourt, yet the Warriors must carefully determine his role. The days of overwhelming Warrior dominance might be behind them, but this doesn’t discount them from being a playoff-worthy team. This is particularly true as long as Stephen Curry maintains an MVP-caliber performance.
The X-factor lies in how much of an impact Paul can make. As long as the core trio remains healthy and cohesive, the Warriors remain formidable title contenders, ready to contend for further championships.
6. The Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis achieved back-to-back 50-win seasons, yet their efforts ended in first-round exits for the second time in three years. A giant blow came when Commissioner Adam Silver announced a 25-game suspension for star guard Ja Morant at the start of the 2023-24 season in June, leaving the team in urgent need of a backcourt replacement and seasoned leaders in the locker room.
The Grizzlies let Dillon Brooks go in free agency. But they made key additions by trading for 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart and adding former MVP Derrick Rose, securing a much-needed veteran presence. Smart’s arrival provides a defensive buffer during Morant’s suspension and adds a gritty edge to the Grizzlies’ backcourt alongside Desmond Bane and Rose.
While Morant’s absence is felt, the spotlight shifts to Jaren Jackson Jr. following his summer performance with Team USA at the FIBA World Cup. Despite facing challenges in international play, this experience will undoubtedly benefit the young sixth-year veteran.
Armed with the past two Defensive Players of the Year in, Smart and Jackson, the Grizzlies possess a formidable defense. The team’s success hinges on Morant’s return and performance, but once he returns, this team could emerge as a significant force.
7. The Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers present a challenging team to embrace fully. Undoubtedly, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are an elite pairing, yet their consistent injuries disrupt the team’s potential. Russell Westbrook‘s return on a two-year contract resulted from his positive impact in 21 games with the Clippers last season, demonstrating promising production (15.8 ppg, 7.6 apg, career-best 35.6% on 3s).
However, the supporting cast, which tends to skew toward older players and lacks notable standout contributors, raises doubts about the team’s status as a genuine title contender. They may seem more like a collection of talents past their prime. Despite this, they can’t be disregarded entirely because a healthy Leonard and George can significantly impact the team’s performance come April.
On paper, the Clippers possess star players, a blend of experienced veterans, showcasing the talent needed for a potential run to the conference finals. However, the challenge lies in maintaining health and players being available for most of the season, especially come playoff time.
8. The Oklahoma City Thunder
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander demonstrated his prowess by securing fifth place in MVP voting last season, and now, his young teammates have gotten a little bit older, and with it comes more experience. Jalen Williams is set to capitalize on an outstanding rookie season, where he was the runner-up for Rookie of the Year. Additionally, Josh Giddey has been honing his ability to draw fouls, providing Oklahoma City with increased consistency alongside Gilgeous-Alexander. Chet Holmgren, now fully recovered from injury, is a potential game-changer as a rookie, offering floor-spacing offensive skills and formidable shot-blocking capabilities on defense.
Oklahoma City was a 40-win squad last season, and there’s no reason to doubt they will be closer to a 45-win squad this season. A 5-win improvement doesn’t sound like much, but since they were only four games behind the sixth-seed Warriors, it could play a significant role in what seed the Thunder earn.
This win improvement is more plausible if Holmgren quickly makes a positive impact while Gilgeous-Alexander maintains his high level of productivity. With a roster boasting both talent and depth, the Thunder have a solid chance of bypassing the Play-In Tournament and securing their first postseason berth since the 2019-20 season.
9. The Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota possesses a wealth of talent, and achieving two consecutive playoff appearances marks a significant resurgence for the franchise. However, the Timberwolves made a bold move the previous year, signaling their intent to reach greater heights by pairing Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert in the frontcourt. Despite Towns’ injury-ridden 2022-23 season, the experiment continues, while guard Anthony Edwards has emerged as the team’s most dynamic scorer.
The possibility of Minnesota reaching the Western Conference Finals is within reach if everything aligns perfectly. This includes effective synergy between the two dominant big men on both ends of the court, avoiding offensive clashes, and effectively dealing with the range and quickness of opposing bigs defensively. Additionally, Anthony Edwards would need to elevate his performance to the All-NBA level.
Factors such as Nickeil Alexander-Walker‘s growth with increased minutes and overall team health will also play a pivotal role. The difference in advancing an extra round or two come playoff time ultimately hinges on how well Towns and Gobert mesh together.
10. The Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks are undoubtedly an offensive powerhouse, boasting one of the NBA’s most lethal backcourts in Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. The Mavericks re-signed Irving in free agency and focused on shoring up their defensive weaknesses through the Draft and free agency.
Dereck Lively II, an athletic big man drafted with a lottery pick, holds promise to contribute as a rookie and strengthen the team. Olivier-Maxence Prosper was also acquired to bolster the perimeter defense. Additionally, the Mavericks actively addressed their defensive needs with the sign-and-trade acquisition of Grant Williams and the signings of Dante Exum and Derrick Jones Jr., all of whom enhance the team’s defensive versatility and athleticism.
To improve perimeter shooting, Dallas also brought back guard Seth Curry. The team relies on a mix of big men such as Dwight Powell, Richaun Holmes, and rookie Lively to protect the rim effectively. If Dallas can successfully piece together a competent defense to complement their offensive might, they are poised to be a Play-In team at worst and potentially make a significant run in the playoffs.
11. The New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson made significant strides in prioritizing his health and fitness during the offseason after playing in just 29 games last season. Even when not in peak physical condition, Zion has showcased remarkable dominance in the NBA, solidifying his position as one of the league’s most formidable forwards. The lingering question remains whether he can maintain durability throughout the season.
If Zion can stay healthy and consistently perform, the New Orleans Pelicans are bound to surpass expectations. Notably, they possess a valuable second scoring option in Brandon Ingram, complemented by a well-rounded roster featuring experienced veterans like CJ McCollum and Larry Nance, emerging talents like Trey Murphy and Herb Jones, and promising prospects like Dyson Daniels and Jordan Hawkins. Ultimately, the Pelicans’ potential hinges on Zion’s ability to stay on the court and perform at his best.
12. The Utah Jazz
Despite parting ways with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell in 2022, the Jazz began that season on a strong note. Although their performance tapered off, their objective was never merely stumbling into the playoffs. Promising signs emerged when the team operated at full health, hinting at a bright future. Lauri Markkanen‘s emergence as an All-Star, Walker Kessler‘s standout rookie season as a top rim protector, and the impressive coaching of Will Hardy showcased the team’s potential.
Significant acquisitions were made this offseason, including the addition of John Collins and a notable draft haul featuring talents like Taylor Hendricks, Keyonte George, and Brice Sensabaugh. The Jazz’s trajectory is likely to rise rapidly in these rankings. Collin Sexton, acquired in the Mitchell trade, initially provided valuable backup for point guard Mike Conley. However, injuries limited his performance after the All-Star break, impacting his ability to showcase his skills. With competition from George, the rookie, Sexton must demonstrate versatility beyond being a shoot-first point guard.
Aiming for a Play-In Tournament berth for the Jazz seems reasonable if all goes well, especially if they replicate their strong start from last season.
13. The Portland Trail Blazers
With Damian Lillard’s departure, the Portland Trail Blazers enter a new era. The silver lining is the arrival of Scoot Henderson, who appears to be the future face of the franchise. This marks a long-term project where the immediate wins and losses hold little significance for the upcoming season. In strategic trades involving three other teams, the Blazers secured a substantial haul, including Deandre Ayton, Malcolm Brogdon, Toumani Camara, Robert Williams III, three first-round picks, and two pick swaps.
Despite re-signing win-now players like Jerami Grant and Matisse Thybulle, this season is not about immediate success. The Blazers struggled (39-48) even with Lillard over the last two seasons. While their defense likely can’t deteriorate much further, they are almost certainly destined for the Draft lottery for the third consecutive year. The focus is clearly on the long-term vision and building around Scoot Henderson.
14. The Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are making a concerted effort to transition from a rebuilding team to a resurgent force this season, making significant acquisitions in Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks to bolster their starting lineup. However, their long-term success still hinges on the continued development of last season’s young core, including standout talents like Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., and Alperen Sengun.
They have also added rookie lottery pick Amen Thompson, a dynamic point guard who will aid in facilitating the team’s development. Additionally, the Summer League MVP, Cam Whitmore, displays promise and is more than capable of making valuable contributions as a rookie. Nonetheless, it’s clear that the Rockets’ playoff aspirations largely depend on the breakout performances of these young talents. Without such breakthroughs, they are likely to miss the playoffs once again.
15. The San Antonio Spurs
The selection of Victor Wembanyama as the No. 1 overall pick has ignited a sense of championship hopes among San Antonio Spurs fans. However, it’s rare to see a generational talent significantly affect a team’s success in their first year in the NBA. With that being said, the organization is now guided by patience and a practical approach, recognizing the youthfulness of its roster, with 14 players aged 25 or younger. In the first year with Wembanyama, the focus is on evaluating how the existing young talents blend with their prized pick, setting the stage for sustained long-term success.
Coach Gregg Popovich’s commitment to overseeing San Antonio through the early stages of the Wembanyama era is evident in his recent 5-year contract extension, securing his position as the NBA’s winningest and longest-tenured head coach with the Spurs at least through 2028. While Victor Wembanyama grabs the spotlight, this marks a unique opportunity for a national audience to discover the other promising talent within the Spurs roster.
Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson, regarded as two of the league’s best young wings, alongside the versatile forward Jeremy Sochan, form a formidable core. Additionally, the inclusion of talents like Malaki Branham and rookie Sidy Cissoko adds depth to an already stacked roster. However, transforming this young talent into consistent wins for the Spurs will require time and patience.