Dec 20, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) reacts to his score against the Philadelphia 76ers during the third quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Updated NBA Western Conference Power Rankings

Teams are sculpting their playoff chances in the dynamic realm of the NBA Western Conference, where some teams are surging with momentum, and others are grappling with a prolonged slump. Whether a team is basking in the glory of triumph or navigating the challenges of adversity, teams are defining their places in the Western Conference hierarchy.

Updated NBA Western Conference Power Rankings

1. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-5)

The Minnesota Timberwolves, equipped with the necessary components, have the potential to make a significant impact in the Western Conference, especially with emerging superstar Anthony Edwards having a standout season. The pivotal factors include the perennial question of Karl-Anthony Towns‘ health and the potential impact of Mike Conley this year, and so far, both factors have been trending in the right direction.

Thus far, Minnesota’s performance has been exceptional, standing out as one of the top teams in the 2023-24 season with their elite defense. Anthony Edwards is not only playing at a superstar level but is also in contention for the MVP title, receiving substantial support from his experienced teammates. The question now arises: Are the Timberwolves a genuine contender for the championship? The signs certainly point in that direction.

Minnesota has achieved their best start in franchise history over the first 25 games. Following a hard-fought victory against Miami on Monday, the Wolves, boasting the league’s top defense, face another challenge this week against the Philadelphia 76ers, who hold the second spot in offensive rankings. The dynamic duo of Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards has proven formidable, with Edwards leading in points (24.6) and steals (1.4), while Gobert dominates in rebounds (12.2) and blocks (2.4). The team will heavily rely on these two players in upcoming matchups against the Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder to close out the year.

2. Denver Nuggets (18-10)

At the beginning of the year, the Denver Nuggets maintained their dominance, but a significant injury to Jamal Murray led to a decline in dominance, resulting in notable losses and a drop in the NBA power rankings. However, with the return of the star guard, there is optimism that this group could reclaim a top spot in the new year.

Nikola Jokic recorded an unusual triple-single with eight points, nine rebounds, and seven assists, a performance warmly received despite its rarity. Jokic and the starting lineup enjoyed a restful fourth quarter as the Nuggets defeated the Mavs 130-104 on Monday. Denver’s recent success, winning four of the last five games, can be attributed in part to the restored health of their starting unit, notably Murray, who has recovered from hamstring and ankle injuries. In search of a reliable bench rotation to provide crucial rest for his starters, Coach Michael Malone found encouragement in Monday’s game, witnessing four reserves scoring in double figures.

Although the Nuggets’ upcoming three games are on the road and against teams with sub-.500 records, their away record stands at 7-8, indicating a challenge. Notably, Denver clinched their first NBA title by defeating the Miami Heat in the 2023 NBA Finals. Jokic showcased his playoff dominance, proving his worth beyond the regular season. The pivotal factor was Murray’s emergence as a legitimate star in the league, complemented by the rest of the roster demonstrating championship-caliber play.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder (17-8)

Following Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s breakout season last year, the Oklahoma City Thunder has emerged as one of the most rapidly ascending teams in the NBA. With Chet Holmgren‘s return after missing the previous season and the addition of 2023 first-round pick Cason Wallace, the Thunder now pose as dark horses to conclude the season as a top-five team in the competitive Western Conference.

OKC stands as a formidable force in the West, boasting an offense that poses a significant challenge for their opponents. Gilgeous-Alexander is delivering an MVP-caliber season, and his teammates are providing robust support with impressive performances of their own.

Holmgren, a top contender for Rookie of the Year, serves as the linchpin for the league’s sixth-best defense, showcasing an impressive streak as a rim protector and holding the third spot in the league for averaging 2.8 blocks per game. In all seven games this month, Holmgren has recorded multiple blocks, including standout performances with eight and seven blocks in the Thunder’s recent two games. This achievement marks him as the first rookie since Tim Duncan in 1997-98 to secure at least seven blocks in consecutive games.

4. Los Angeles Clippers (16-10)

Paul George mentioned that he, along with Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook, needed time to adapt to the Los Angeles Clippers’ revamped offense following the Harden trade, aiming to “find the new you.” Since enduring a six-game losing streak shortly after the trade, the Clippers have indeed uncovered their new identity. Currently, they stand as the hottest team in basketball, boasting an impressive eight-game winning streak and securing victory in 13 of the last 16 games since the slump.

The Clippers’ resilience will face a challenge with a back-to-back matchup against Dallas and the Thunder before heading home to host the Boston Celtics. Notably, both George and Leonard have begun the season relatively healthy, a departure from recent seasons, and have managed to maintain that status surprisingly well. The looming concern, however, remains the sustainability of their health. Despite being beyond their prime, the Los Angeles Clippers, with the addition of discontented star James Harden, appear poised to be a playoff-caliber team if they can maintain their health.

Although it took some time to integrate Harden into the system, the team has ignited to close out the year, securing nine consecutive victories. The perennial challenge of health remains, yet this group is evolving into a legitimate dark horse in the competitive Western Conference.

5. Sacramento Kings (16-9)

Last season, the Sacramento Kings emerged as the NBA’s most surprising team, showcasing one of the league’s top offenses with a dynamic duo in De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. Although minimal changes were made in the offseason, the team has matured and improved, poised to make a more significant impact in the competitive Western Conference.

With Fox back in action, the Kings have reclaimed their status as one of the West’s elite teams, even becoming an attractive destination for discontented stars. The potential for a blockbuster move in the coming weeks could solidify the Kings as a team earnestly pursuing championships for the first time in decades.

Keegan Murray has truly found his stride this season. While displaying potential during his rookie campaign a year ago, he is now actualizing it. His standout performance included hitting 12 3-pointers, setting a franchise record against the Utah Jazz on Saturday. Despite early-season shooting struggles, Murray has excelled in all other aspects of his game. Currently ranking 14th in offense, the Kings, with his consistent shooting, could potentially match or surpass the offensive standards set last season when they boasted the league’s best unit, especially with the contributions of Fox and Sabonis.

6. Dallas Mavericks (16-10)

While the Mavericks, led by Luka Doncic, have shown improvement compared to the previous season, they continue to struggle against top-tier teams in the league. Until they can secure victories against powerhouse clubs, expectations for Dallas in the postseason remain guarded.

Doncic is delivering exceptional performances, possibly the peak of his career, precisely when the injury-riddled Mavericks are in dire need of his prowess. He has surpassed his own franchise record by scoring at least 30 points in an impressive 11 consecutive games. During this remarkable stretch, Doncic has averaged 35.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 10.4 assists, shouldering a significant load as several key players, including co-star Kyrie Irving, have been grappling with injuries.

Irving has been sidelined since December 8 due to a right heel contusion. Notably, Dante Exum, a member of the supporting cast, has risen to the occasion, contributing with an average of 16.1 points and 4.6 assists as a starter over the past seven games, contributing to Dallas’ 5-2 record in that span.

7. New Orleans Pelicans (16-12)

The New Orleans Pelicans, once among the top five units in the West with Zion Williamson, faced a challenging period when he sustained another long-term injury, placing them in a battle for a playoff spot. The crucial questions revolve around Williamson’s ability to stay healthy and whether the team can reclaim its status as a Western Conference powerhouse if he does.

In the current season, the Pelicans have regained their offensive prowess in the West whenever Williamson has been available. Unfortunately, their defense has encountered challenges at times. Nevertheless, their notable performances in the NBA In-Season Tournament showcase their potential to deliver impressive displays when it matters most.

The New Orleans’ trio of Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum has played pivotal roles for the Pelicans rebounding from the disappointment of the in-season tournament semifinals. During the past five games, center Jonas Valanciunas has been particularly noteworthy, averaging 19.2 points and 14.6 rebounds with an impressive shooting percentage of 63.2%. New Orleans boasts a 10-5 record this season when Valanciunas achieves a double-double. With these key players healthy, currently ranking seventh in the West, the Pelicans have the potential for a rapid ascent as they conclude the year with a series of road games.

8. Los Angeles Lakers (15-12)

In the offseason, the Los Angeles Lakers refrained from pursuing additional star players, recognizing the strength of their existing roster. Having reached the West Finals last season, the team’s young players are poised for continued growth in the upcoming year. As in the previous two campaigns, the Lakers’ success hinges on the health of Anthony Davis and LeBron James, with the NBA icon inching closer to 40.

Initially, Los Angeles appeared to be in a precarious position after the first month. However, strategic adjustments to the starting lineup and rotations proved pivotal, leading to significant improvement. Moreover, earlier this month, the franchise and LeBron James achieved a notable milestone by becoming the first to win the league’s inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament.

Since securing their in-season tourney title, the Lakers have struggled going 1-3. However, turning that desire into reality is no small feat. With five of their remaining seven games in 2023 being on the road and facing opponents with a combined record of 91-64 (.587) this month, the challenge is significant. Notably, two of those away games are against the Timberwolves, the current No. 1 team in the West.

9. Phoenix Suns (14-13)

New head coach Frank Vogel faces a formidable challenge in creating a functional dynamic with three superstar scorers in Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Bradley Beal. While Booker and Durant displayed dominance at times last season, Beal’s unpredictability introduces an element of uncertainty that could either lead to chaos or transform them into one of the most formidable offenses in league history.

Due to Beal’s extended absence and Booker’s own time on the sidelines, the Phoenix Suns haven’t embodied the team many expected. With Beal’s return to action in December, the opportunity arises to witness whether Phoenix can evolve into the offensive powerhouse initially anticipated.

In a victory over Washington on Sunday, Booker’s impressive eight assists marked the ninth occasion he has recorded eight or more assists in 17 games this season. With Bradley Beal sidelined for at least two weeks due to a right ankle sprain, Booker will shoulder even greater responsibility. He is tied for second in the league in points per game (28.1) and shares the top spot in assists (8.3).

10. Houston Rockets (13-11)

In the early stages of this season, the Houston Rockets, under the guidance of new head coach Ime Udoka, exhibit positive signs of development. A noteworthy transformation is observed in 2021 first-round pick Alperen Sengun, who has progressed from being overlooked to emerging as the team’s top performer, currently leading them in scoring.

The Rockets’ defensive prowess has undergone a remarkable transformation, evolving from one of the league’s weakest to among the best. Houston currently holds the third spot in defensive efficiency (109.4), a significant improvement from their 29th ranking (118.6) in the previous season. Coach Udoka and small forward Dillon Brooks, an All-Defensive selection acquired in free agency, receive substantial credit for this turnaround.

Noteworthy contributions also come from reserve forward Tari Eason, who leads the team in blocks per game (1.0). With Eason on the floor, the Rockets have limited opponents to a mere 97.3 points per 100 possessions, a stark contrast to the 113.3 points allowed when he is absent. Following a challenging season, Houston’s front office has invested significantly in point guard Fred VanVleet and defensive standout Brooks, hoping that this strategic move will propel the team back to prominence.

  1. Golden State Warriors (13-14)

For nearly a decade, the Golden State Warriors have relied on their established core of seasoned veterans, a lineup comprising future Hall of Famers, to navigate through challenging periods. However, the current situation sees them depending on a trio of young talents in their early twenties: Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and Trayce Jackson-Davis. This shift prompts questions about the team’s potential success, particularly when facing challenges such as Draymond Green‘s recurring suspensions, Andrew Wiggins being relegated to the bench, and Kevon Looney‘s minimal impact.

While Klay Thompson appears to be regaining his form, the Warriors’ last 13 games have all been decided by single digits, leading them to participate in a league-high 23 clutch-time games. Maintaining a lead has proven to be challenging for them.

12. Utah Jazz (10-17)

The Jazz emerged as a notable success story in NBA power rankings for a significant portion of the previous season. Initially expected to be among the league’s weakest teams, first-year head coach Will Hardy led a competitive squad and nurtured Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler into emerging stars.

While Markkanen continues to showcase strong play this season, Kessler’s development has hit a plateau. Utah possess a solid roster with talented players, but their lack of game-changing talents limits their impact as a force in the Western Conference. Recent reports suggest that Markkanen is no longer untouchable, which could lead to a major overhaul for the team in the upcoming year.

Guard Collin Sexton, a potential focal point of interest for the Jazz leading up to the February trade deadline, has delivered an impressive performance by scoring at least 20 points in five consecutive games. Throughout this stretch, he has maintained an average of 25.6 points and 4.0 assists, shooting at an efficient 53% from the field. Notably, Sexton’s notable contributions occurred during his first four starts of the season, coinciding with the absence of Jordan Clarkson (hamstring) and Keyonte George (foot). Capitalizing on these opportunities, Sexton has excelled, scoring a minimum of 26 points in each of those starts and contributing to Utah winning three of their last four games.

13. Memphis Grizzlies (7-19)

The Memphis Grizzlies, once the cool and rising team in the West, now face heightened expectations. Merely being entertaining is no longer sufficient; they must prove their capability to contend for a championship or consider changes to the roster and coaching staff to reach the next level. However, the true evaluation is expected to begin upon Ja Morant’s return from his 25-game suspension. With Steven Adams out for the season, the Grizzlies grappled with challenges throughout the year. While Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. have had commendable seasons individually, their collective efforts have fallen short, leaving them in the Western Conference cellar. Now, with Morant’s return, they face a substantial uphill battle to climb from the bottom of the NBA standings and re-enter postseason contention.

Memphis is optimistic about the potential return of Marcus Smart, who has been sidelined since November 14 due to a sprained left foot. His comeback this week is anticipated, and it is likely that the Grizzlies will opt for a lineup featuring three guards. With Smart joining Ja Morant and Bane. However, the team has encountered challenges in finding a starting small forward since the departure of Dillion Brooks in free agency. Vince Williams Jr. has emerged as the most viable option thus far, outperforming recent first-round picks Ziaire Williams, David Roddy, and Jake LaRavia.

Morant’s highly anticipated return to the season was marked by a game-winning shot over the Pelicans, showcasing a stellar performance with a 12-for-24 record and finishing with 34 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists. If he can consistently put up stellar performances like that, then Memphis has a real shot at rising in the rankings and potentially making the playoffs.

14. Portland Trail Blazers (7-19)

Following months of speculation and rumors, the inevitable occurred, and Damian Lillard‘s illustrious tenure with the Portland Trail Blazers came to an end in September. This marks their first season without the star guard in over a decade. The current lineup, featuring the discontented Suns center Deandre Ayton, Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, and the promising prospect Scoot Henderson, faces the substantial challenge of filling the void left by Lillard.

However, their efforts so far have fallen short. While Simons is delivering a strong season individually, the team struggles with one of the worst point differentials in the league, and Scoot Henderson has yet to make a significant impact that truly impresses Trail Blazer fans this season.

Despite finally achieving full health, the Blazers find themselves in the midst of a challenging seven-game losing streak, the second-longest active streak in the league (apologies to the Pistons). Their defensive performance has been a haunting factor, slipping from the 10th to the 19th spot since November. However, there is a silver lining, as their offense has displayed signs of improvement. Both Jerami Grant and Simons are maintaining averages of over 20 points per game, with Scoot Henderson recording a career-high 23 points against Utah last week.

15. San Antonio Spurs (4-22)

The San Antonio Spurs are eager to rebound from another losing season, with the addition of the once-in-a-generation super prospect Victor Wembanyama to their roster this year. This French phenom has generated immense hype and is considered the most anticipated young player since LeBron James. His development is poised to be one of the major storylines to follow in the new season. Despite Wembanyama’s strong performances and leadership in multiple statistical categories, the team, unfortunately, lacks significant support. As we enter the new year, they find themselves with one of the three worst records in the NBA, positioning them for another lottery spot in 2024.

Wembanyama’s transition to the center position in the starting lineup has not only brought a boost to the Spurs’ offense but has also garnered increased attention. In the five starts he made at center, Wembanyama, who sat out Tuesday’s game against Milwaukee due to right ankle soreness, has shown notable improvements, averaging 19.2 points, 15.8 rebounds, 4.2 blocks, and 3.6 assists. His shooting percentages have also seen an uptick, with a 45.1% overall and a 34.8% success rate from beyond the arc—significant enhancements compared to his first 19 games when he played as a power forward.

Main Image: © Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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