By Hocine LOUKKAF on 10/23/2022
With most injured stars hopefully back for good (Leonard, Zion, Murray), the Western Conference is as loaded as ever with the Warriors as the big favourite to win it all once again and the Clippers as their biggest contender (if Kawhi remains healthy).
#1 Golden State Warriors
As Curry and Thompson are supposed to be peaking, the Warriors keep stockpiling talents and draft steals. With Poole, Wiggins and Looney’s contracts extended, Wiseman finally healthy and another potential steal with 28th draft pick Patrick Baldwin (after Kuminga and Moody), GM Bob Myers is just overbraining the whole League and may already have avoided any rebuilding. The opportunity of winning a title has also brought DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green for a ridiculously low $7m combined. The only cloud looming is another Green, Draymond, who was expecting an extension and lost his temper hitting Poole during a training. The only goal is another title and anything else would be considered a failure.
#2 LA Clippers
Can Leonard and George stay healthy ? If they can, the Clippers may have one of the top three rosters in the League with experience in the backcourt and on the wings (Jackson, Wall, Kennard, Powell, Covington, Batum). The frontcourt is a bit lighter, despite the possibility of playing RoCo or Batum at the four spot, with Morris and Zubac and only Brown and rookie Diabate as their back-ups. This roster is made to win and we will know by May if the stars are in the good shape to target a ring and make the Clippers win their first championship.
#3 Memphis Grizzlies
On the rise for the last two years behind superstar Ja Morant, the Grizzlies have tied their best record last year (56-26) but couldn’t get past the Warriors and thus reach the Western Finals they reached in 2013. Few moves with Melton and Anderson gone, replaced by Danny Green and a bunch of rookies (Chandler, Roddy, LaRavia and Lofton), nothing spectacular but Jenkins and the management have been goood enough to turn upperclassmen draftees into solid starting or rotation players (Clarke, Bane).
#4 Phoenix Suns
Last year has been a big disappointment for the Suns which have been humiliated by the Mavs by losing by 30+pts in Phoenix. The roster hasn’t changed a lot as the Suns have given Booker the extension he deserved and decided to keep Ayton, who was targeted by the Pacers. Crowder, an important piece last year, has asked to be traded which will allow Cam Johnson to enter the starting five. The Suns hope to get to the Finals once again but will this roster be tough enough to reach the expectations as CP3 is also aging ?
#5 Denver Nuggets
With only one win in the first round against the Warriors, the Nuggets have been far from reaching their goal. They have not been helped by the injuries of two of their leaders, Murray and MPJ, which have left Jokic too lonely. The Nuggets have also lost three important pieces this summer, Monte Morris, Will Barton and JaMychal Green who have been replaced by Ish Smith, KCP and Bruce Brown. The good news is that Jokic will be there over the next five years and Gordon has been a good fit next to the Joker.
#6 New Orleans Pelicans
The Pels were one of the pleasant surprises of the last playoffs despite being eliminated in the 1st round. They come back stronger with Zion, whose health would be the key to pass a round in the playoffs. McCollum and Ingram have become the leaders of the franchise and they are surrounded by solid players who bring toughness, defense and versatility to the roster (Valanciunas, Jones, Alvarado, Murphy). New Orleans also drafted 6-7 do-it-all guard Dyson Daniels who fits perfectly this roster and could become a steal down the road.
#7 Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs took a gamble by letting Brunson leave for the Knicks and giving the starting PG spot to Dinwiddie. They made up for this departure by improving their frontcourt and bringing Christian Wood, a big man scoring threat that was lacking last year. The rest is in the hands of Luka, who has become the heart and soul of the franchise and is one of the few players who can make his team win almost by himself.
#8 Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves went all-in this summer by giving a lot of assets (Beasley, Beverley, Vanderbilt, Kessler, Bolmaro and four 1st round picks) to bring Gobert with the goal to go as far as possible in the playoffs. The Wolves have yet kept intact their core with KAT, DLo and Ant, which make this trade less of a risk in the very short term. The fit between KAT and Gobert has been questioned as Towns will have to defend quicker players if he plays the four while Gobert has been mocked for his lack of offensive skills. While McDaniels and Anderson will fight for the starting SF spot, the bench is solid with McLaughling, Rivers, Forbes or Reid.
#9 Portland Trailblazers
The Blazers possess a nice group of prospects in their backcourt with Simmons, who had a lot of plying time last year to relly perform, and rookie Sharpe while they have added Jerami Grant as PF. The vets are also solid with Hart, Nurkic and energizer GPII from the Warriors. By the way, I forgot about one of the best players in the League when healthy, Dame Lillard. He has declared his love to the club by signing a lucrative two-year extension and will be willing to bring Portland back to the playoffs and more, if his body can allow him too.
#10 Los Angeles Lakers
Poor Lebron !! Despite performing incredibly at almost 40, Lebron is the victim of the awful management of the Lakers which have found the brilliant idea to surround him with Westbrook. The Lakers ended up finishing at the 11th spot and it will be hard for the purple and gold to hope better this year. AD has played half of the games last year and as if RussWest wasn’t a bad fit enough (and not only basketball-wise), there is another big mouth in town with Pat Beverley. The Lakers need to find good role players and get rid of Westbrook who despite his talent, will not help the Lakers win games this year.
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