NBA Western Conference Preview for 2014/15 Season

We are a week away from the beginning of the new NBA season and I wanted to give me my thoughts and preview on the teams. I will post an article for the Western Conference now and a day before the tip off, will post another one for the Eastern Conference.

Pacific Divison

golden stateGolden State Warriors

The main question with the Warriors is always the health question. Bogut, Lee and Curry are injury prone. Iggy also missed a lot of games last season and now, Livingston and Barbossa – the main acquisitions – also have long injuries history.

Bogut missed the playoffs a year ago, with injury. Lee played really injured (and missed some games) last playoffs and Curry misses a lot of games with ankle issues.

If they can stay healthy, they have really high ceiling. If not, there is no way of knowing where they may go.

Player to watch for

Curry is the star of the team. Bogut is the defensive anchor. Klay Thompson made a steady improvement each season, so much that Golden State didn’t want to trade him for Love – a superstar in the NBA. He will need to take another step forward, that will make Warriors wonder, who is the real star of their team, Curry, that can’t stay healthy and can’t defend or Clay, that doesn’t have the shooting touch that Curry has (but no one in this league has that), but much better defender and has much bigger arsenal of moves.

X-Factor:

Shaun Livingston was a huge prospect when Clippers picked him in the draft. Few bad injuries and a lot of bad luck, caused him to miss a lot of playing time and out of 12 years he has been in the league, he failed to reach 50 games in 7 of them (including 07/08 season he missed all together due to injury).

He is stepping in to a huge roll, to substitute Jack Jarrett that left a season ago and the Warriors failed to find someone to step in for him, last season.

Livingston should back up both Thompson and Curry (together with Rush – another prone injury player they signed this summer) and should have around 25 minutes and if he can do what Jack did for this team, he will have enormous value and can give both stars of Golden State the rest they need and by a spark that comes off the bench. No doubt he isn’t the scorer that Jack was, but he is a great defender and can score as well.

Bottom line

Warriors are too good to be left out of the playoffs, even in the amazingly talented West. 50 wins should secure the playoffs for them and I expect them to win between 50 to 54 wins. In the playoffs, if this team is healthy, they can go all the way to Western Finals, but at least, Game 7 of round 1, just like last season.

phoenixPhoenix Suns

Suns were suppose to be the Sixers of the West last season, but even with Bledsoe injured and missing bunch of games, Hornasek lead the surprise of the year to the playoff battles, where they lost by a nose, to Dallas and Memphis.

After trading for Bledsoe last season, most teams thought that Suns will trade Dragic, but Hornasek proved, that you can have a great team (and one of the most fun to watch teams), playing two PG in the same time.

In the end of the league, it appeared that the league got accustomed to the Suns, so this offseason, Suns did unexpected move and… brought another star PG to the team. Isaiah Thomas, who finished last season with 20 points and 6.3 assists, joined the team for really low salary.

Now they got three headed monster (as Hornasek said) and have three best players all in one position. What this says about Gerald Green? It remains to be seen.

Interesting facts

Zoran Dragic signed with the Suns, making them the first team ever in the NBA, that plays with two sets of brothers in one team (Morris brothers and Dragic brothers.
Title “Mr. Irrelevant” saved in the NFL draft for the last pick in the draft and lately, it been used for NBA draft as well. Isaiah Thomas was picked in the last, 60th pick by the Kings and became a star in Sacramento, with 20 points average last season.

Thomas picked 60th in 2011

X-Factor

Suns backcourt/ Jeff Hornasek. Green was one of the surprises in this league last year. He was one of the reasons Suns did so well. Thomas arrival, means that there no more minutes to give in the SG position, since backcourt has 96 minutes available and Bledsoe, Dragic and Thomas should eat all of them. Will he play SF? Will he eat up minutes of the PG’s trio? Will he fall out of the rotation?

Not only that. Bledsoe and Phoenix played “chicken” all summer and at some point, after Thomas signed, it appeared that Bledsoe may leave the Suns.

Two main questions now. 1) How Bledsoe will play after getting his big contract 2) Thomas said all the right things when he signed, but that was before Bledsoe signed his contract. Will he be ok being third wheel in the backcourt? Again, this is a player that averaged 20 points last season.

Jeff Hornasek pulled a rabbit out of the hat last season. The main question is, if he got any more rabbits in the hat or aces in the sleeve or any kind of magic left?

Prediction

It will take a miracle for Suns to be that good again I think. Thomas was amazing addition, but can do a lot of harm as well. Bledsoe can take a step forward. Plumley and Len as well. Maybe Morris brothers as well, but still… West got a lot better and I really can’t see them being in the playoffs this season as well.

40 – 44 wins season is the most I expect from them.

la lakersLA Lakers

Really not a lot to say about them. Signed Kobe to 48 mill for two years, lost Pau, Kobe’s best friend, surrounded him by players that don’t know what playoff is and it seems like there is nothing to be said about the Lakers this year or the year after that – not till Kobe retires.

Why take the most competitive player in the game, offer him such a huge contract (notice, he didn’t demand it – this is what they offered) and then, surround him with talent that can get him no where…
Lin and Boozer are nice additions and Randle can become one of the best players in one of the best drafts the last decade (since 2003), but still, this is not a win now team and even not a playoff team.

Player to watch

Only one name comes to mind, Julius Randle. Selected 7th in this year’s draft, he can become a franchise player. He is that good – no doubt about that. The main question, is Scott the right coach for him and the answer is that probably not.

Anyway, most Lakers roster are one year rentals and Randle is the future of the franchise. With nothing to look for this season, it will be interesting to see him develop and hopefully, get the starting role in the end of the season.

X- Factor

Health. Nash hardly played the last two seasons and Kobe the last season and a half. Now they both are ready to start the season. Kobe and Nash, 2011 version of them, can take any team in to the playoffs. Obviously we aren’t going to see that. The question is, how much of that version are we going to see. In 2013, before Kobe’s injury in the end of the season, he was one of the best or probably the best player in the league (that month). If he can play at 80% of that level, Lakers should be fun to watch and who knows, maybe it will convince players to come to the Lakers in Kobe’s final year.

Prediction

Lakers can be in a playoff run or can be bottom feeders. It mostly depends on Kobe’s and Nash’s abilities. Anyway, even if they somehow will get in to the playoffs (and they won’t), they won’t go past the first round.

But, I think they will be out of the playoff round before April. This is 2014/15 and they will need a time machine to make a good run. 30 – 35 wins is all I predict for them (and as a long time fan, I hope to be wrong).

la clippersLA Clippers

X – Factor

I decided to start with the X-Factor here, because this is the essence of Clippers in my eyes. Last year, with the series tied 2 – 2, in pivotal game in Oklahoma, Clippers lead by 7 points with 50 seconds left and seemed in control of the game, with Paul scoring off Clippers offensive rebound… And then came Thunder’s timeout.

Paul, Clippers best player and one that is considered to be a winner (I don’t know why), managed to lose the ball twice and with 6 seconds to go, to foul on Westbrook and allow him to shoot three free throws.
Westbrook (a real winner), said thank you and scored all three to put Thunder up 105 – 104 (and that was final result).

CP3 is amazing player. Rivers is a great coach and a proven winner. The problem is the franchise. They been losers for years. Injuries, bad luck, players leaving them, despite promising otherwise (Brand promised Clippers to resign, promised Baron Davis, for him to come and then bolted on them).

This is a team that just has a losing DNA. I’m not saying it will last forever, since every thing ends sooner or later, but that’s something that we must remember, when we think about Clippers.
Rivers and Paul will have to prove they can change the losing nature of the franchise and who knows, maybe with the new owner, Steve Balmer, it will happen.

Player to watch

Clippers didn’t do too much this offseason and I’m just looking forward to see how more can Clippers front court to evolve. Hawes was exactly what the doctor prescribed. Griffin and Jordan had a career season last year and can take even one more step forward. But still, the feeling was, that there is no one behind them, that Rivers can feel comfortable with (Davis was very mediocre) and Hawes will bring exactly that. He can stretch the defense, with his three pointers, he can rebound and can play in the post.

Griffin and Hawes together, can become worst defensive frontcourt duo (Love & Pekovic got this dubious honor the season before), but on offense, Clippers, best offense in the league last season, can become even more unstoppable.

Prediction

Clippers are good enough to fight for the first spot in the West. Durant will miss the beginning of the season, Spurs usually play poorly after winning the title and no other team can challenge them (well, maybe Dallas). Anyway, they are in the first level team group with Oklahoma and Spurs and will finish 1 – 3 with 57 – 62 wins (no reason for them not to win at least 57 games they won last year).

In the playoffs? Really hard to say, but I can’t see them winning the West this season. Healthy Thunder still better than them and many other teams can give them hard time as well. They can go out the first round or go all the way to the Western Finals, but I will go with the scenario of last season, struggling in the first round, but winning it, giving a good battle in round 2, but losing it.

sacramentoSacramento Kings

Last year, was a breakthrough season for Isaiah Thomas, that finished it with 20 points and 6 assists. Still, for some strange reason, they chose to release him and sign Darren Collison – decent player, but not as good as Thomas and for the same exact money.

Kings also can’t decide what they are trying to do. They signed Malone last season as the head coach, very respectable assistant coach (Golden State was his last place of work before that) that proved to be a decent coach so far and can develop.

They were trying to rebuild, but in the middle of the season, decided to trade for Rudy Gay, a player that was on huge decline, so they got him really cheap, but still, there was zero reason to do that.

This move was made, when it was obvious that Kings won’t make it to playoff even and therefore, it’s not clear, why, instead of developing young talent and take better draft pick (higher position), they tried to win few more games, with
Gay, that doesn’t make anyone around him better.

Gay was a huge surprise in Sacramento (best half season in this league so far) and proved that he can be a good player that contributes, but still, Kings, in their wildest dreams, can be a borderline playoff team – so what’s the point?

X – Factor

Cousins continued his steady improvement and we already can mention him in the discussion, who is the best Center in the league at the moment. When he is focused, he is amazing on both sides of the floor. He rebounds, scores, defends – everything.

The problem is that he is not always focused and even when he is, it’s very easy for rivals to take him out of his focus. If he will get to the playoffs in the future, it will be interesting to see, if he can stay focused.

When he is not focused, it’s not only the dumb fouls, the technical fouls and the ejections. It’s sloppy defending, poor shot selection and he simply loses interest in the game.

Malone did a great job last year with him, but still… lead the league in technical fouls (with Blake Griffin).

The difference between focused Cousins and disinterested Cousins can mean 10 wins for the Kings and this is the main X-Factor.

Player to watch: SG position. Another strange decision made by the Kings came on draft night. Just a year ago, they selected at SG position Ben McLemore (7th pick). He played poorly and was another reminder, of how amazingly weak draft 2013 was, but still… instead of building his confidence and allow him to evolve as sophomore, Kings selected in draft 2014 (8th pick), Nick Stauskas and no, he isn’t Lithuanian, but a Canadian, but can shoot three pointers.

Stauskas on paper is much more promising player than Ben and even as rookie, should be more NBA ready and anyway, two years straight, Kings had high picks and chose to sign a SG.

This is the position that Kings hope, will give them another star to complete Cousins (and maybe Gay, that is on his contract season).

Prediction

Kings should improve, simply because Cousins is a year older, Stauskas should solve their SG problems (and McLemore should improve as sophomore) and Gay will play for his last big contract. Trade of Thomas, means that Malone looks to improve his defense (Thomas was a bad defender) and believes that scoring won’t be a problem for the Kings (and I agree with him).

Last year they won 28 games and despite the loss of Thomas and the improvement of the West, I can’t see them fall below that. But, they won’t get to 40 wins, that would allow them to at least threaten playoff spot at some point.
28 – 36 wins (again, depends mostly on Cousins).

Northwest division

oklahomaOklahoma City Thunder

Thunder had bad luck the last two seasons. They lost Westbrook in a freaky foul by Beverly two playoffs ago (when Westbrook was calling for a timeout, Beverly just crashed him, trying to steal the ball), ruining playoff hopes and last season, we can argue if healthy Ibaka would have changed the final outcome against 2014 Spurs, one of the best teams in the NBA history, but he would have improved Thunder chances, no doubt.

X Factor

Now, they lost Durant for two months and he will start the season a bit late (about a month late). How will Thunder manage without him and since it will be the first time, that Westbrook gets the keys to the team, will he be able to take that step forward and more important, he and Durant like brothers, but will he be able to take the backseat again, when Durant returns. Westbrook is the best PG in the league, no doubt about it in my eyes (yes, better than CP3). He has the full package, guts, defense, ability to shoot three point shots, mid range shots and finish at the rim. He is explosive and athletic and maybe the most athletic PG ever in the league.

But, his hunger and desire for the game and for the wins (and for recognition) and sometimes absolutely horrendous decision making, turn him in to a project that a good coach should take.

Westbrook and Durant healthy and in good dynamics in the playoff = great title chances for the Thunder.

Player to watch: Obviously Durant and Westbrook are the stars of the team and Ibaka is the third best player in Oklahoma City.

But after them, there is a great empty. Adams was amazing first year out of college. Jackson finally showed why Presti selected him in 2011 and really exploded last season, in Westbrook’s absence and even after his return. Butler and Sefolosha disappeared as season went on and Lamb couldn’t make a big leap forward.

Oklahoma, excluding Durant, show below 35% behind three point line. One of the worst in the league.

Morrow should slide in to starting position in his first season with the Thunder and he is one of the best shooters in the league, 45% behind the arc last season, 43% career shooting from three point range.

This is exactly what Oklahoma needed and if he shoots the same this season, Thunder will be unstoppable and after many years of the same starting 5 in Oklahoma (more than 3 seasons), we see a change and it will be interesting to watch.

Prediction

Even with Durant injured, I can’t see Oklahoma falling below third spot in the West. What place will they take? It depends mostly on when Durant returns and how well will they play without him.

In the playoffs, it’s very hard to predict in the very tough West, but I do believe that we see the best team in the West and one that will represent the West in June, in the NBA Finals.

utahUtah Jazz

Utah started a revolution last summer, giving up on present and focusing on the future and stays the course this season (and I agree with them).

Last summer, they traded their star duo frontcourt, Jefferson and Millsap, to give the way to the two very promising youngsters, Enes Kanter (selected 3rd in 2011) and Derrick Favors (selected 3rd in 2010).

Players to watch: First season was mixed. Favors did a step forward, but he is second most making player in the team, signed for 4 more years and he been given all the focus and minutes he could only ask for and still responded with 13.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in 30 minutes (1.5 blocks and 1 steal per game as well). Favors is a good defender that can in to really great and the main question was his offense and he without a doubt improved in that department.

Kanter is a year younger, so he gets a discount, but his progress was a lot less obvious. He scored 12.3 points and grabbed 7.5 rebounds in 26 minutes, so per minute, he is about the same results as Favors. But, only 0.5 blocks and 0.4 steals per game, number of turnovers (1.8) is twice the number of assists (0.9) – though Favors not a lot better in that ratio (1.8 – 1.2). The main problem with Kanter is that while he can score and there was never doubt about it, he is a bad defender and nothing that we saw last season, makes us think otherwise.

I honestly don’t know what is easier, to take a good defender and teach him to improve on offense or take a good player on offense and teach him to play better defense, but they are the ones to see and watch this season, as Utah hope for each to take one step forward.

X-Factor

Utah has no ambitions, so it’s not like there is some factor that will take them in to the playoffs. Utah’s X-Factor is the youth and by youth, I have to talk about back court that all came from draft. Burks came in 2011 (12th pick), Burke in 2013 (9th pick) and Exum in 2014 (5th pick). Exum just turned 19, he is the youngest by far (Burke came only a year before him, but three years older than him) and that’s why he will take a backseat this season. Utah (and others) see him as a huge project, but not for this season and to be honest, I don’t get the excitement around him, after seeing him a bit. He is a raw potential and just like every raw potential, it’s a hit or miss type of pick and I’m not sure that it was the best possible selection in the 5th place of the best draft the last decade (since 2003).

Burke and Burks had a great season, one proved to be great rookie, with 5.7 assists to 1.9 turnovers ratio and the other, after two seasons of adjustments, had a breakthrough season with 14 points, 2.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds. This backcourt will get better, but one huge problem. One shot 35% behind the arc, the other couldn’t get even that and stopped on 33% only. This is unacceptable percentage from your backcourt (and on top of that, Hayward, the star of the team and one that plays at SF position, shot 30% behind the arc, so teams can close the paint against Utah and gamble on their three pointers).

Prediction

This is a very interesting young project, with Hayward being the star on the team, signing max contract this season and being only 24 years old (with 16.2 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds – great numbers). But, while the whole team has nowhere to go, but forward, in the West that became a lot better, there won’t be too many chances to translate the progress in to wins.

Last year they won 25 games. This season I predict them to win 28 – 32 games.

denverDenver Nuggets

Last year, they chose to fire George Carl, after he got the title “Coach of the Year” and replaced him with Brian Shaw. Shaw was one of the most anticipated assistant coaches and it was a surprise it took him so long to take a head coach position.

But, if Denver expected to take a step forward, their plans failed. Denver had a lot of injuries, Shaw lost control of the locker room (though he gained it back) and Denver finished the season outside of the playoffs.
Player to watch: In one sentence, I would like to mention Mozgov, that is turning from a nice back up player, to a solid starter in the NBA and continues to improve his game.

But, the player to watch in my eyes, Danilo Gallinari. He missed the entire last season due to injury, but before that, he was the star of the team, in post Carmelo era (together with Lawson). He is a 6″10 SF, that can shoot three pointers (almost two three pointers per game), but also can play closer to the paint. If he is wealthy and in good form, he gives Shaw a very interesting smallball option, playing with Farried as Center, Gallinari as PF and Chandler as SF. Together with Afflalo and Lawson, this can be amazing team to run with and run tired teams, out of the building.

X-Factor

Two X-Factors here – both not really court related. One is injuries. Denver had amazingly bad luck injuries wise, with Gallinari, McGee and Robinson not playing all season (almost) and Lawson and Chandler suffering from injuries, causing them to miss a lot of games as well.

Second X- Factor is the simple fact that this is the deepest team in the West, where in every position, we got at least one (and in some positions two) players on the bench, that we can argue should start. Hickson, McGee, Robinson, Foye and Chandler create very decent unit, almost as talented as the first one. Denver doesn’t need that. They need to find a team, that is looking to unload a star (missed the boat with Love – but weren’t too involved in the first lace) and find the combo that will work and ship a bunch of good players, in order to get a star, that can take them to the playoffs (like Knicks did with Carmelo – though not sure this is a good example due to result).

Prediction

If Denver will be healthy and get their star, they can end up in the playoffs and maybe be a dark horse there (depending on the trade).
But if not, it will be a fun team to watch, that will use their depth, thin air in Denver and a roster built to run, to chase tired teams, playing second leg of B2B, out of the building, but bottom line, I can’t see them squeeze in to the playoffs in this amazingly talented West.

The addition of Afflalo and return from injury of all the players, should make them a better team, but with West getting a lot better this summer and them winning 36 games last year, I can’t see them winning more than 40 – 45 games and that just not enough in the West to earn a postseason as well.

minnesotaMinnesota

Last season is irrelevant, but overall, I will just say that it wasn’t near where Wolves hoped to be. Therefore, after losing head coach, Rick Adelman, due to retirement and main star, Kevin Love, due to his unwillingness to continue to play on a losing team, Minnesota started the rebuilding.

They did amazing job, getting so much assets for Love, that wasn’t going to stay anyway, that it was close to a robbery.

Player to watch: Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, two Number 1 picks, the last two drafts – that’s what they got back from Cleveland for Love. Bennett was terrible last season, but lost weight and did great job in Summer League and still can be a good player and will be interesting to watch this season.

But, the main story is Wiggins. No player since LeBron in 2003, managed to build such a huge hype around him, as Wiggins did and it was obvious the last 3 years, that he will be Number 1 pick in 2014. He had a mediocre college season, so there became some doubts, but bottom line, this is a huge talent, that can be the face of the NBA in the next decade and it will be really interesting to see, how well he performs, his first season in the league.

X-Factor

Pekovic and Dieng, both signed for 4 more years (Minnesota can cut Dieng after two season) and while Pekovic will make 24.2 mill the next seasons, Dieng will make only 2.9 mill in the same time (10 times less), but still, many say that Dieng should be the future of the franchise at Center position. When Pekovic got injured, Dieng started getting serious minutes in the end of the season and in 18 games, he finished 13 in double figures scoring wise, including 9 double doubles. In 5 games, he had 15 rebounds or more and had a night of 22 points and 21 rebounds in 38 minutes against Houston. He continued his stellar end of the season, in the World Championship, this time, as the sole star of Senegal.

He proved he can play basketball and this season, he will get more minutes and if he will continue to play the same way, Minnesota may have stroke gold.

Prediction

While focusing on Bennett and Wiggins, two draft picks that weren’t theirs, we need to remember that they had their own picks and they selected Zack LaVine, really good shooter, that is NBA ready and had the bad luck to fall behind Wiggins (and maybe behind Kevin Martin as well) and Glen Robinson III, a good player as well, that can contribute. On top of that, they managed to get Mo Williams as a free agent, Thaddeus Young via trade with Philly and suddenly, this is really great team that should be fun to watch and a team that can become a power horse within 2 – 3 seasons, but even now, they are good enough to battle for the playoffs in the talented West, but still, probably won’t make it, due to inexperience.

30 – 35 wins is something that Minnesota can easily do and who knows, maybe even closer to 40.

portlandPortland Trailblazers

Last time that Portland reached second round of the playoffs was in 99/00. That is, till last season, where they beat the Rockets, but winning them twice in the first two games, that were held in Houston.

As the season before that, Portland managed to do that, due to amazing start of the season and unlike the season before that, it was that good, that even very bad finish couldn’t keep them out of the playoffs.

The reason why Portland has such a poor second half of the season? Bench – worst bench in the league by far for many years now.

That forces staters to play injured, to play a lot of minutes and in the second half of the season, fatigue catches up with them.

X – Factor

That brings me to X – Factor and that’s of course the bench. If Portland will have strong enough bench, to give the starters 1 – 2 games off, when slightly injured and 4 – 5 minutes more of rest in each game, Portland can at least try to repeat last season’s success.

Portland lost Mo Williams, that was the only spark off the bench, but got Blake and Kaman instead and together with Thomas Robinson (5th pick in 2012), C.J. McCollum (10th pick in 2013) and Dorell Wright, create a second unit. Loss of Mo was really hard one (Portland came amazingly close to signing Hawes, but failed in the end), since no one in the second unit can score points like he did, but Blake comes for a second run and he is solid and Kaman is a great upgrade to last year’s Center position. If Robinson and McCollum will continue to improve, as is expected from such young players, maybe Portland has a chance.

Anyway, I honestly don’t know the answer to the question, how good (or how bad) Portland’s bench will decide how far Portland’s talented starters will take them.
Player to watch: Last year, Lillard proved, already in his second season in the league, that he is something special. After winning unanimously the title “Rookie of the Year” (He and Blake Griffin the only ones to win unanimously in the last 25 years), he took a step forward and despite playing 3 minutes less, scored 1.7 points more (20.7 points per game), improved his assists – turnovers ratio, took more rebounds and improved his three point shooting from 36.8% to 39.4%.

On top of that, he shot few amazing clutch shots and game winning shots, including the amazing series winning three pointer in the 6th game against the Rockets, that got Portland winning by 1 point and sent them to the second round, the first time after many years.

He shot B2B game winning shots at December and was second in the league at clutch shooting (second to LeBron) and second in the league at clutch three pointers (second to Chris Bosh). He proved he is in the league of the big players and it’s amazing to think, that it will be his only third season in the league.

Prediction

Last year Portland won 54 games, but they won few game winning shots and the fact that Portland hardly had injuries (4 out of 5 starters played all 82 games). I can’t imagine Portland being able to repeat such a number and with 49 – 50 wins – the number needed to be in the playoffs, I believe that Portland will fight Phoenix and New Orleans (and Houston) for the last spot (or two) to the playoff. 45 – 50 wins is my prediction and I think that if I’m wrong, it probably means that Portland will win even less.

Southwest division

san antonioSan Antonio Spurs

I can write a lot about the Spurs and their amazing season, but will just say that Spurs should be given as an example how a team should be built. The ability to find gems in the bottom picks (Manu, Parker, Splitter and there are many others), the ability to resurrect players that were seemed on a way out of the league (Green, Diaw), the ability to convince players to sign lower contracts, the ability to stay on top year after year (in the last 4 seasons, Spurs won the title only once, but finished with the best record in the regular season three times and second best record in the other one).

Instead of looking at last season, I rather focus on this one.

Player to watch: Kawhi Leonard, faces very difficult task this season. In the year before last year’s Finals, Green was a legit candidate to be MVP, had Spurs won the title. Last season was difficult on Green, that lost his mojo and instead of elevating his game and building on post season success, he regressed in almost every stat. This time, Spurs did win the title and Kawhi got the MVP. So far, he took a small step forward in each of his seasons in the NBA and now, Spurs look to him, as the star of the team, after Duncan and Manu will retire. Can he make that leap? Will he be able to become the star, when defenses will be focused on him? We will get partial answer this season and looking at his natural abilities, I wouldn’t count a “yes” answer out.

X – Factor

Spurs are terrible in post title seasons. They did it 4 times before, under Pop and never got even won the West. Lost once in the first round, twice in the second round and once in the WC Finals. Pop says that this will be their drive this season, to finally do a back to back championship, but the history shows that this is not the team that can remain focused.
How much motivation will Pop bring himself and will be able to get the players to bring? The answer to this question can decide a lot about Spurs season.

Interesting facts

Spurs have really interesting coaching staff that Pop selected. Ime Udoke joined the staff last year and became the first African born coach in the NBA. Becky Hammon joined this season and became the first female coach in the NBA history. Ettore Messina was a coach in the Lakers, so it’s not the first time, but still, Spurs are the only team that will have a European coach this season.
Really interesting coaching staff by the Spurs, that really shows how great this organization is.

Prediction

I see no reason to think that Spurs will finish below 3rd place. Dallas can threaten them, but not more than that. This is the only team, that didn’t make any changes in their roster (one draft pick and that’s it) and the continuity and the talent should be enough to make them a very strong force in the West.

Postseason: I can’t count them out of title hopes, but my guess? They won’t make it out of the second round (maybe even the first one). West is really hungry and talented and after every rise, comes the fall. If Pop and the Spurs win the title, they are one of the best three teams to ever play this sports – but I will have to bet against that.

new orleansNew Orleans Pelicans

Pelicans had a lot of injuries last season and that cost them a chance to fight for the playoffs. Gordon missed 18 games (not a lot for him), Davis missed 15 games (and he is the mega star of this team) and Tyreke missed 10 game. But that’s nothing. Holiday, the big trade before the draft of 2013, played only 34 games and Anderson, that had a hell of a summer (including suicide of his girlfriend), played only 22 games.

Player to watch

But, there are few good things that happened. Davis already maybe the second best player in the West, after Durant and he will begin his only third season in the league. The improvement he made from season to season, the character, it’s very hard not to admire this kid, but it’s important for him to stay level and keep both legs on the ground (and no reason to think otherwise).

He came to the league as a defensive presence, but many predicted that he will struggle on offense. But, he just continues to add more offensive moves to his arsenal of moves and just developing in amazing pace.

The addition of Asik, will move him to his natural position, PF and we can expect him to simply explode this season and he really shouldn’t be missed this season.

X- Factor

Monty Williams. Williams not a bad coach. The question is, can he become a good coach. Pelicans don’t have a perfect roster, but with the addition of Asik, good coach has so much options. Going big, with Holiday, Evans, Anderson, Davis and Asik or going small with Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Anderson and Davis. Asik and Davis can easily become the best defensive frontcourt in the league. Anderson and Davis can stretch the floor. Evans proved he plays better as SG than SF. Anderson can play both forward positions.

Creative coach can do some magic with this team. Is Williams this coach? We will see, but gut feeling says that the answer is “no”.

Prediction

This is a team that can become the dark horse of the West and a nightmare team to any rival. On the other hand, this is very injury prone team, that has depth problems and a coach that failed to show anything special.
In the East, this is a 4 – 6 place type of team. In the tough West, they can battle for the playoff spot, but there is a good chance they will end up on the wrong side, when the music stops. 42 – 44 wins (maybe more) and 9th place with a lot of hope, once they get rid of Williams and add a bit more depth is my prediction.

houstonHouston Rockets

They won the big prize of the summer 2013, in the face of Dwight Howard, who gave a good season, but still not at the level that he played at his prime in Orlando. The season went as expected, with Rockets finish 4th, behind the big trio, Clippers, Spurs and Thunder and ahead of Portland and Golden State and then came the playoff.

In the playoff, we saw all the problems that Harden brings – poor defense and the desire to be alpha dog, jacking up shots, when it clearly wasn’t his series, resulting in Rockets losing both first games at home. The recovered and came close to tying the series to 3 – 3, but then came Lillard and sent Rockets home.

X – Factor

Daryl Morey. In the 2014 summer, Morey gave up everything, trying to land a big name. In 2012, he brought Harden in the last second, in 2013 Howard. In 2014 he focused on Carmelo and then turned his attention to Bosh, that got max contract offer from the Rockets and appeared to sign there. In order to do that, Houston gave up on Lin (sent to the Lakers and gave up on 2015 draft pick) and Asik (to the Pelicans), they turned down qualifying offer on Parsons, that was suppose to earn 1 mill and promised him, they will tie any offer he will get (was restricted agent). In the end, Bosh signed with the Heat, Parsons got a huge contract from Dallas, that Morey chose not to match and Houston was forced to sign back up to all three players that weren’t nearly as good. Morey was considered a genius before this summer, but if he doesn’t do something with the Rockets this season, there will be question marks around him and his system.

Player to watch: Harden had amazing season with the Rockets in 2012/13 and a good one last year. But, very poor postseason, brought tons of questions around him and it will be interesting to see how he responds, especially on the defensive end, his weak spot.

Prediction

Rockets are the team that got weaken the most this summer in the West. So much, that from a home court advantage last year (4th spot), there is a question mark around their ability to get to the playoffs.

Rockets still got a good roster and two stars in Dwight and Harden, but poor defense and no depth can cause them great problems down the road, especially if injuries start to pile up.

They won 54 wins last year, but this season, I doubt they will win more than 50 wins. 47 – 50 wins is my prediction for them.

memphiesMemphis Grizzlies

Not much to write here. Veteran team, that been playing together for a long time and have a lot of talent to get to the playoffs. How far can they go? Depends on the surrounding cast.

Player to watch

Courtney Lee. He started his career in Orlando and was good player, that could have bought his world, by winning a game in the NBA Finals against the Lakers. Instead, he missed an easy lay up, Lakers win the game and the rest is history. Lee elevated his game last season, both in Boston and after that in Memphis (was part of the reason why Memphis made their run – together with the return of Gasol from injury). Memphis are proud of their grit and grind style of play, but need to be able to score points and being able to rely on the support cast.

I will focus on the others from this cast in X-Factor, but Lee is a great player that can do a lot of good things and he will be interesting to follow.

X- Factor

Vince Carter and Quincy Poindexter. Poindexter played really well in 2013 playoffs, but missed the entire last season, due to injury. Carter gave a great season in Dallas and even better post season. Both didn’t play last season for Memphis and will play this season. Miller left and Memphis desperately need a spark off the bench and both can give just that. Their ability to do just that, can be the difference between Memphis losing in 7 games in Round 1 and Memphis losing in Game 7 in WC Finals.

Prediction

Memphis veterans are just too good to be left out of the playoffs, as long as they won’t have any big injury. They can surprise and finish 4th and can struggle and finish 8th.  No matter what will be the outcome, Memphis is the only team that probably has no chance to win the West, that no team wants to meet in 7 games series.

48 – 54 wins is my prediction in the regular season and a strong battle in every series they will be in, no matter how few or many there will be.

dallasDallas Mavericks

Dallas was in danger of missing the playoffs last season, but the experience won over Suns youth and Dallas caught the final 8th seed in the West.

In the playoffs, Dallas was the closest team to eliminate the Spurs and managed to win one of the only two games that Spurs lost in the playoffs at home last season. Anyway, in Game 7, Spurs woke up, trashed Dallas and never looked back, while Dallas stayed with the compliments and decided to rebuild.

Dallas is the team that made the most changes in their roster and improved the most. First they signed Felton & Chandler from the Knicks, then on top of that, got Jameer Nelson on a very cheap contract, Richard Jefferson (they slowly signed all the great Nets players from a decade ago, Carter, Kidd, Jefferson), Al – Farouq Aminu, Rashard Lewis and Ivan Johnson.

They didn’t stop on that and made the move for the jewel in the crown, Chandler Parsons and Dallas will present no less than three new players in the starting unit this season.

Player to watch

Chandler Parsons got burned badly by Houston, but should thank them. They could have signed him for this season for 1 mill, but decided to let him become restricted free agent and promised to sign him, no matter what.
After getting less than a mill a season his entire career, became the highest paid player in Dallas, getting no less than 15 mill a season. It remains to be seen, how he will respond, but he always been a blue collar type of player and with other stars on the team being Chandler and Dirk (and Ellis), players that are hard working as well, it’s hard to believe he will get spoiled.

X-Factor

What Chandler we will see? If we will see Chandler of 2010/2011 season, when he played in Dallas and won the title, Dallas can go all the way or at least be one of the strongest teams in the West. If he will play like last season’s version, we can see huge defensive problems for Dallas, since Dirk never was a great defender as well and the same goes for the other starters, like Ellis and Nelson.

Prediction

Dallas won 49 games last season and got a lot better. Their star took huge paycut, becoming one of the least paid starters on his team, getting only 8 mill (instead of max contract he could have got). This sacrifice should be contagious and other players should learn from that. Dallas has experienced coach and star, players that won titles and players that know how to get things done. New roster can always take time to glue, but if there won’t be any big fallbacks and if Parsons lives up to his contract, Dallas is the only team that can threaten the big trio in regular season and in postseason, it’s hard to tell, but nothing will surprise me. Another ring or early exit. All depends on the rival and the match ups.

Anyway, they should win 55 – 60 games and do a lot of good thing this season.

Western Conference Prediction

This is my view of the teams in the West and now the final table of the Western Conference, as I see it:

1 – 3 places

  • Oklahoma
  • Clippers
  • SA Spurs

4 – 6 places:

  • Dallas
  • Golden State
  • Memphis

7 – 8 places

  • Houston
  • Portland

9 – 10 places

  • New Orleans
  • Phoenix

11 – 13 places

  • Denver
  • Minnesota
  • Sacramento

14 – 15 places

  • Lakers
  • Utah

The “Most” Ones

Team that lost the most value this summer: – Houston Rockets

Team that improved the most: – Dallas Mavericks

Most interesting player to watch for this season: – Antony Davis and Andrew Wiggins (and Bryant and how he returns from the injury)

Recommended future bets

  • Dallas Over 50 wins (best bet no doubt)
  • Clippers Over 55.5 wins
  • Minnesota Over 27 wins
  • Utah Over 24 wins

Bottom Line

West got a lot better this season, with most teams getting better and if last season, 49 wins were enough to get to the playoffs, this year, it could be that no less than 50 wins will be required.

I believe that places 9 – 12 in the West, that would miss the playoffs, can easily have better record than places 7 – 8 in the East and it’s a shame.

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Anyway, as I said, I will post my review of the Eastern Conference on Monday or Tuesday at the latest.  I hope we all will enjoy a good and interesting season, that also will be profitable.

Those that are interested in my paid subscription, can see the details on this page.

For any questions you can write to my email: bmanidv@gmail.com

Best of luck everybody!!!

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