With the NBA season beginning yesterday, and the Nuggets season beginning today, the Denver Stiffs staff got their prognosticating caps out and made some predictions.
However, for some of you that may be interested in knowing what we think of each and every team in the league, more words are required. Ryan Blackburn and Daniel Lewis took some time to make predictions of their own, taking the over or under on each team in the NBA.
Here is part two, for the Western Conference. You can read part one for the Eastern Conference, which was published yesterday.
Houston Rockets - 56
Lewis (60-22): I think the Rockets are going to have a great season. I think their offseason acquisitions of P.J. Tucker and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute were huge, and adding Chris Paul doesn’t hurt either. They moved a lot of their depth to get Paul, and they’ll need to be cautious with rest throughout the season, but their offense is going to be historic.
Blackburn (59-23): I love the Chris Paul-James Harden pairing. Harden is still an elite creator, but he also took the most contested three pointers in the NBA last year. That will change. Another issue with last year’s Houston team was versatility, and that will change too. P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute are great rotation players to play 15 to 20 minutes off the bench of quality defense. Eric Gordon will be their main bench scorer, but don’t expect too many minutes of both Paul and Harden off the floor. They will be great together, and they will be great apart.
San Antonio Spurs - 54
Blackburn (58-24): The Spurs are going to win, and win again, and win some more. Kawhi Leonard being out for the first few games may be one of the best things for LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay to start the season. They will be in familiar positions as scorers to be relied upon, and Gregg Popovich will make it work. Once Leonard comes back, they should all be comfortable and ready to blow bad teams out win every game that they should.
Lewis (53-29): Ho hum, the Spurs are going to finish another season with 50 wins. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili shouldn’t be asked to do too much, but the new vanguard of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White should be gradually moved into larger roles as the season progresses. They have defensive concerns in their frontcourt (except for Kawhi Leonard) and Pau Gasol could be asked to shoulder a larger role than I think he’s capable of handling at this point in his career. I’m here for a Rudy Gay renaissance down in Texas.
New Orleans Pelicans - 39.5
Blackburn (40-42): DeMarcus Cousins as point center is not something I expected given the addition of Rajon Rondo, but weirdly enough I think this team wins 40 games. Anthony Davis is awesome, and with Cousins and Jrue Holiday in tow, he will probably play close to 75 games again. Alvin Gentry is fighting for his job, and the talent of the two top bigs will be enough on a lot of nights. It won’t be great, and they won’t get a playoff spot, but they won’t be a 35 win team unless they trade Cousins.
Lewis (41-41): This season is going to have a lot of drama, believe me. If the Pelicans aren’t winning every game, there are going to be rumors of DeMarcus Cousins being involved in trade rumors. They have plenty of guards on their roster, but they have to be wishing there was some way they could find a small forward they could play alongside Cousins and Davis. I could see them dominating some teams where Cousins and Davis are just too much for teams to handle, and getting dominated by some teams where the Pelicans defense can’t keep up on the perimeter.
Memphis Grizzlies - 37.5
Lewis (39-43): It pains me to predict them to finish with less than 40 wins, because I like so many players on this team. It just concerns me that they are probably going to be starting Wayne Selden at shooting guard. The grit and grind identity will have to be carried on by Mike Conley Jr, who is still somehow underrated, but I’m not sure if they’ll be able to score enough points each night to win half their games. A good team, but in a great Western Conference, not good enough.
Blackburn (41-41): I actually like the Grizzlies to crack .500 as I’d be a hypocrite to not give Mike Conley the credit where he’s due. I think he has a legitimate claim as a top five point guard in the NBA. The problem? The rest of the supporting cast outside of Marc Gasol. Chandler Parsons is a good player, but will he be healthy? JaMychal Green is underrated, but how much value does he really add? James Ennis is probably their best player outside of those four, and that scares me. Still, I think they beat up on a weak Eastern Conference when they play them, and I think their record against worse teams will be very strong. That will be enough to get them to .500 basketball.
Dallas Mavericks - 35.5
Blackburn (33-49): I’m all in on the Dennis Smith Jr. experience, and while I don’t think he’s going to become Damian Lillard or anything, he’s in a really good situation if both ha and Rick Carlisle can keep their heads. Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes have strong enough reputations to provide spacing, as does Dirk Nowitzki obviously. DSJ and Dirk should form a good pick and pop duo, while DSJ and Nerlens Noel will be a good pick and roll duo. They won 33 games last year. That sounds right this year.
Lewis (30-52): This is going to be a mediocre team that somehow winds up with 30 wins, and when we all look back, we’re going to credit Rick Carlisle and Dennis Smith Jr. They have a ton of small guards that can shoot but can’t defend, a ton of bigs that can’t shoot but can defend, and Dirk Nowitzki. It’ll be fun to see how Carlisle and Nerlens Noel get along throughout the season - I don’t think it’s going to go very well for Noel if he doesn’t buy in to the Mavericks system.
Golden State Warriors - 67.5
Lewis (69-13): They’re really good. They have Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Nick Young. Sometimes, you just can’t stick it to the man.
Blackburn (70-12): What can be said about them that hasn’t already been said? They might get bored, but they upgraded their team by adding Nick Young, Omri Casspi, Jordan Bell, and others during the offseason. Unfair. Pencil them into another Finals victory barring injury.
Los Angeles Clippers - 44.5
Blackburn (45-37): It’s hard to not like the different combinations the Clippers can throw out there. In one lineup, they can go defensive with Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers (a surprisingly good defender) at the guard positions. They can complement that with the offensive firepower of Milos Teodosic and Lou Williams, both of which would be the best players on bad teams. They also have some of the best frontcourt talent in the NBA, featuring the trio of Danilo Gallinari, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. Will it work? Who the heck knows? I think they get the 8 seed.
Lewis (45-37): I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I kind of like this Clippers team. I don’t understand how the pieces will fit together on offense or defense, but there are going to be some really fun games for this squad. I think so much depends on Doc Rivers, because he’ll need to bring a lot of new faces together and have them play well together. I think they’ll be good enough to get the final spot in the playoffs.
Los Angeles Lakers - 33.5
Lewis (22-60): I don’t see any way this team wins 34 games. They’re the reason why the Nuggets are assured of not having the worst defense in the league. They’ll have one player on their team that won’t be awful defensively in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and he’s on a one-year contract. I don’t know for sure how good or bad Lonzo Ball is going to be, but I don’t think it’s going to matter.
Blackburn (19-63): Note to Vegas goers, always pick the UNDER on the Lakers. Lonzo Ball is awesome, but he’s going to take some time. KCP is good, but he’s also the only player who isn’t a minus defensively. I’m here for the Kyle Kuzma experience, but the only way he gets to have that experience is if Julius Randle is bad, and Larry Nance is worse. Brandon Ingram is already awful. It just doesn’t take a lot to project them to win less than 20 games.
Phoenix Suns - 29
Blackburn (21-61): Ugh. Trade Eric Bledsoe already and stop dragging him through this awful rebuild.I love me some Josh Jackson, while I am still high on Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender individually. All three of those guys are going to take some time in the NBA before they are going to be good, though, and playing the three of them heavy minutes will lead to a lot more losses than wins, just like the majority of young prospects. Devin Booker is good. He has flaws though, and he’s not the top 5 shooting guard some think he is that would lift this team out of cellar like other top players would.
Lewis (18-64): It’s going to be an ugly season in the desert folks. This is a team that is in the midst of a rebuild, and should be looking to show off Eric Bledsoe in anticipation of a midseason trade. It might take Josh Jackson all season to get accustomed to the NBA game. Devin Booker can score, but the public perception attached to him after the 70-point game is misplaced. I think he’ll be able to get points this year, but it’s not going to translate to wins.
Sacramento Kings - 28
Lewis (22-60): It’s really incredible to me how the Kings have progressed since the Boogie trade. I love their backcourt of Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox, and they have great vets to learn from in George Hill and Vince Carter. I think Bogdan Bogdanovic is going to be a breakout player in his first year in the NBA, and the Kings are going to see what Skal Labissiere can do in the league.
Blackburn (23-59): This Kings season will be fun, but it will also involve a ton of losses. I think they go more young as the season moves along. It wouldn’t surprise me if one or two of the veterans that signed there was traded during the season for a protected pick (looking at you, George Hill). They have a lot of solid pieces, but they still need another high ceiling prospect before they can start thinking about winning games.
Oklahoma City Thunder - 53.5
Blackburn (54-28): Unlike Dan, I think this experiment takes some time before getting off the ground. All three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George have been the focal points of the offense for awhile, and it will be a transition for each of them. They don’t have the same offensive principles the Warriors do, and they don’t take as valuable of shots. They could very well be a top 5 defense, but I’m lower on their offense, thinking they will be closer to 15th than they are top five. Isolation offense just isn’t that efficient. Sorry. They will be a better playoff team than the San Antonio Spurs. Not sure about the regular season.
Lewis (65-17): It’s hard to comprehend how good the Thunder were able to get without sending out draft picks. They moved one second round pick for Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. ONE! They’re going to be thin throughout the season, but the talent on this team is tantalizing. It’s going to be really difficult to beat the Thunder without having a substantial lead before the fourth quarter begins.
Minnesota Timberwolves - 47.5
Lewis (46-36): This isn’t the same team that won 33 games last season. The addition of Jeff Teague and Jimmy Butler will help them on both ends of the court, and if Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins improve defensively, they’ll be a playoff team this year. The question for me with this team is if they’ll be able to threaten teams from the perimeter. Butler and Wiggins aren’t known for their ability to stretch the floor, and Teague isn’t a prolific 3-point shooter. Their defense will have to win some games for them, as they grind for 48 minutes with Butler dominating touches at the end of games.
Blackburn (47-35): I have the T’Wolves really coming on at the end of the season by winning 21 of their last 31 games. That said, they may struggle initially to space the floor and play the requisite defense needed to win games. KAT is amazing, and Wiggins should improve again this year. Still, Jeff Teague is good. Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford are rotation upgrades, even if they aren’t great anymore, and Jimmy Butler is such a larger upgrade over Zach LaVine defensively that it’s hard not to buy the Minnesota hype. I have them winning 47 games, but they could easily get 40 OR 50 wins.
Denver Nuggets - 45.5
Blackburn (48-34): Take the OVER, Nuggets nation. Paul Millsap is an upgrade over Danilo Gallinari in terms of what the Nuggets need. Full stop. Nikola Jokic is still awesome, as is Gary Harris. The most important thing though? Every player knows their role. Jokic and Millsap are the two stars. Harris is the third guy. Wilson Chandler is the glue guy and wing stopper. Will Barton is the sixth man and bench creator. Mason Plumlee is the bench big and Jokic replacement. The only major questions are the point guard position and the backup forwards, but I have a feeling Jamal Murray and Juancho Hernangomez will put those to rest quickly. The initial rotation fits very well together and is extremely versatile, and that will help them win a variety of games.
Lewis (48-34): For those with the ability to recall last year’s projections, it seems like Ryan and I have predicted the same record for the Nuggets again. We were both right on with our projections, and I feel good about my projection again this year. I think Millsap will be huge for the Nuggets, teaching the team how to win games and conduct themselves as professionals. I’m expecting big seasons from Wilson Chandler, Will Barton, and Jamal Murray, with the steady contributions from Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris.
Portland Trail Blazers - 42.5
Lewis (42-40): This feels like a team that doesn’t really know who they are once you get past C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard. They’re going to expect big things from Jusuf Nurkic, and he’s flashed the potential to do so in the past. The question will always be consistency and health for him until he proves otherwise. If Nurkic struggles, fans should start wondering if it’s time to give advanced stats darling Zach Collins more playing time.
Blackburn (44-38): I think Portland just misses the playoffs this year. They don’t have enough shooting outside of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to maintain the 11th rated offense they had last year. They will become better defensively with Jusuf Nurkic in the lineup, but the question is how much? The rest of the supporting cast hasn’t really changed, and while I think they will be better overall, losing Crabbe hurts.
Utah Jazz - 41
Blackburn (45-37): Utah just squeaks in as the 8 seed for me, tied with the Clippers at 45 wins. I’m a huge believer in the Ricky Rubio-Rudy Gobert pick and roll, as well as a believer in Rodney Hood being a 20 ppg scorer in the NBA sometime soon. There are major questions like the health of Derrick Favors and the reliance on a rookie in Donovan Mitchell, but with quality veterans in Joe Ingles, Joe Johnson, and others in fringe roles, the Jazz can patch up some of those to get that 8 seed.
Lewis (48-34): I’m pretty high on the Jazz, and my hopes are placed on two former Nuggets draft picks, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. I don’t think Rodney Hood can just step into Gordon Hayward’s shoes, but I think Quin Snyder will be able to design an offense that lessens the impact of Hayward leaving. It’s going to be huge if Derrick Favors is healthy, because he helps their defense immensely. I love Ricky Rubio on this team as well - they are just going to be fearsome on defense.