With the NBA free agency frenzy coming to an end, NBA teams and fans alike can start looking toward the upcoming season. The 2019-20 season features a drastically different NBA landscape and although it’s impossible to know exactly how the season will play out at this moment, there are favorites even amongst a high-parity Western Conference.
No. 1 Seed: LA Clippers
With the recent acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers are widely considered the favorites for the championship this season. Jerry West took an already stellar defensive team and added the two best defensive wings in the game. They are the favorites to win it all and it is very clear why.
No. 2 Seed: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets looked like a strong team that fought and clawed its way to the No. 2 seed this prior season with a very young roster. Eventually losing in the second round in a game seven, the Nuggets added depth and athleticism with Jerami Grant. The team performed phenomenally. However, with no set small forward in their rotation and the defensive issues from starting point guard Jamal Murray, there are concerns that need to be addressed going into the next season. The Denver squad will be a very good team, but are still one or two years off from being a true contender.
No. 3 seed: LA Lakers
The Lakers on paper look like a very scary team. An Anthony Davis and LeBron James pick and roll is every team’s worst nightmare, especially when Danny Green is spotting up for a three in the wing. Running LeBron at the point, this roster is huge and will present a lot of problems for teams offensively and on the boards. Notice how I didn’t say defensively there. With the prevalence of stretch fives, it’s not too hard to scheme around Anthony Davis’ abilities as a rim protector. In addition, DeMarcus Cousins and LeBron James leave much to be desired defensively. Going into year 17, LeBron is definitely not playing the best defense of his career and Cousins, who was always a step slower, has just suffered two major injuries to his knee and quadricep and is thus going to be a huge asterisk defensively. Davis is also known for getting knicks and knacks here and there that keep him out for short periods of time, but in this neck-and-neck Western Conference, that will cost LA some games and their seeding.
4 seed: Houston Rockets
Houston may have started falling apart before our very eyes after being eliminated by a Kevin Durant less Warriors team. Chris Paul and James Harden are feuding because of the playstyle they play – which favors Harden and no one else. It’s clear that the players and administration have lost all faith in Head Coach Mike D’antoni and Free Agency did not go in their favor at all as they did not sign any notable Free agents and are set to run it back with almost the same team. Here’s the catch however: GM Daryl Morey might of just saved all of their blunders by trading for a league MVP and former teammate of James Harden, Russel Westbrook. Their isolation playstyle has not panned out now 3 years in a row and is unlikely to work a 4th, but with Westbrook and Hardens pre-existing chemistry and D’antoni reverting back to his Phoenix offense rather than his current iso offense, Houston has effectively reopened their window for a championship. They switched out an aging star with injury concerns to replace him with a high octane player who has a reputation for being the ironman of the NBA. There are concerns with Westbrook’s scoring efficiency, but the elite level playmaking he brings to any squad is well worth any offensive concern one might have.
No. 5 seed: Utah Jazz
Utah has been one very strong defensive unit that has stukk largely underperformed in the playoffs due to offensive inconsistencies. The addition of veteran Mike Conley Jr. and ISO scorer Bojan Bogdanović address their one glaring concern and could make Utah a dark horse threat in a close Western Conference, especially if Donovan Mitchell can take that next step and play at an all-star level.
No. 6 seed: Portland Trail Blazers
Portland was notorious as a team that did really well seeding wise but could never take that next step and convert regular-season success to playoff success. All of this changed when they made the Western Conference finals last year. They accomplished this feat without their third star Jusuf Nurkić who suffered an injury late in the season leading up to the playoffs. So why are they seeded so low? They lost one of their key roleplayers Seth Curry in Free agency and its unlikely they get the same production from Rodney Hood going forward. Nurkic who was already a defensive liability has just taken a lower leg injury which won’t bode well defensively. The Trail Blazers 2 man duo of Lillard and McCollum can only carry this team so far on their own without a clear cut third option, and adding Hasan Whiteside who is little more than an elite rebounder does little to solve this problem.
7 seed: Golden State Warriors
I know what you’re saying, they made the finals the last 5 years straight how are they suddenly a 7 seed. Losing Kevin Durant is bad, especially since Klay Thompson is injured as well, but on top of this the Dubs lost backup guard Quinn Cook, Shaun Livingston, and Andre Iguodala. All of that and the only addition is D’angelo Russel. Yes Russel is an All Star, yes he is an exciting young player. But the fit next to Steph is frankly terrible. Both are defensive liabilities and D’angelo Russel is extremely pick and roll dependent while the Warriors run very little Pick and Roll and instead prefer a very fluid ball movement offense. Also what’s Russels fit when Klay comes back? Are Steph, Klay, and Russel going to be on the court together, if so that lineup will be extremely undersized especially compared to the rest of the Western Conference teams, which all have notable size to take advantage of smaller lineups. Furthermore the Raptors showed how easy it was to neutralize Curry when he was the sole offensive option with a Box and 1 Defense. In conclusion the warriors lost their best player to Free Agency as well as the little depth that they had to add a player who is ill fitting to their game plan.
8 seed: Sacramento Kings
The Kings have done a lot of things right in the last few years. They got rid of bad contracts and built a deep young team from the draft and brought in pieces to facilitate their young nucleus’ growth. They have stellar perimeter play from Bogdan Bogdonovic (not to be confused with Bojan Bogdonovic), Buddy Hield, and De’aaron Fox as well as a versatile and athletic front court with Marvin Bagley III and Dewane Dedmon. This team then resigns a talented young wing in Harrison Barnes and signs veteran perimeter defender Trevor Ariza – while also adding depth to the backcourt by adding Corey Joseph. This team was trending toward a playoff berth without all of their additions, but with their recent acquisitions the Kings are poised to take the next step while also allowing their young core enough freedom to continue their development.