Western Conference Overview

» September 29, 2008 10:48 AM | By xphoenix87

Welcome, all, to my NBA season preview. Today, I’ll be taking a look at the Western Conference as a whole. Tomorrow I’ll be doing the East, then we’ll head into the individual team previews, where the real meat of this season preview resides. If you missed it, you may want to check out the Season Preview Primer for more info on some of the stats I’m going to be using.

The Favorites

1) L.A. Lakers – As he was last year, Andrew Bynum is the key to this team’s success. If he fully recovers from injury and the team can find a proper balance, this team has all the pieces to win the title. The supporting cast is extremely deep, and barring an injury to Kobe they can withstand a lot of injuries or bad stretches of play that would doom a lot of teams.

2) New Orleans Hornets – There isn’t a better starting five in the league than the Hornets’ combo of Paul-Williams-Stojakavic-West-Chandler. With the incomparable Paul running the show, they can be all but unstoppable at times, and they combine it with one of the league’s best defenses. However, they got lucky with health last year, and they still haven’t addressed their lack of post depth.

The Wildcard

3) Houston Rockets – Let’s be clear, the Rockets have the highest ceiling of any team this year. However, they’ve also got that Ron Artest guy. Not exactly known for his stability, Artest alone is reason enough to think twice about a team, but throw in the health concerns of T-Mac and Yao, and you’re talking the ultimate high-risk, high-reward pick.

The Old Standby

4) San Antonio Spurs - In an ironic twist, the Manu injury might be the best thing that could happen for this team. Manu looked visibly tired down the stretch last year, and if he recovers strongly, he should be fresh for the playoffs. This is still a strong defensive team, and Tim Duncan is still an elite big man. The supporting cast isn’t as strong as in some years past, but do you want to bet against Duncan in the playoffs?

The Big Budget Movie

5) Utah Jazz – Hang with me here. You know how every summer there’s a big budget movie that looks spectacular in the previews, has mind-blowing special effects, big stars, and looks like it can’t fail. Then, you go see it, and you realize that beneath all the flash, this is the same movie they’ve been making for years (for example, does anyone see Traitor and not instantly think “Hey, it’s the black Jason Bourne”). Doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, but it sure isn’t one you’re going to be telling your grandkids about. The point of all this is, the Jazz are that movie. There are a lot of things to like, and they’re going took really impressive on offense, but when it comes down to it, how are they any different from the Phoenix teams we’ve been watching the last 4 years? They’re the premier offensive team in the league, but they’ve got no post defense, no intimidating rim defender and they were easily the most foul-prone team in the league last year. They’ll be good in the regular season, but if they don’t trade for a legitimate post defender, they’re not a title contender.

The Young Guns and The Old Farts

6) Portland Trailblazers – A 41-win team that loses only their backup point guard and adds three lottery-level talents, including the most heralded big man to enter the league in the last decade. 45-46 wins should be the bare minimum for this team. There isn’t a better collection of young talent in the league.

7) Phoenix Suns – In case you were wondering, Shaquille O’Neal is done. He is, at best, an average starting center. He still rebounds exceptionally well, but he’s so inefficient on the offensive end now that he can’t make up for his defensive failings anymore. The Suns are aging, they don’t have much of a bench, and they don’t really have an identity anymore. Their time as a real threat ended last year.

8 ) Dallas Mavericks – If your big offseason move was signing Desagana Diop to a full midlevel contract, you might not improve that much. If you’re still under the illusion that Jason Kidd is an all-star point guard, look past the occasional triple-double and you’ll see that he’s a defensive liability against quick guards, his turnovers are way up, and he’s not ever a real threat to score. There’s only so much Dirk can do.

The Drop-Off

9) Golden State Warriors – I’d give the Warriors an outside shot at missing the playoffs, except that they effectively lost the two best players on their team this offseason with Baron’s departure and Ellis’ injury. There’s still lots of talent on this team, and if their young bigs develop they could surprise people this year.

10) Denver Nuggets – I’d just like to note this for anyone picking Denver as a playoff team. The Nuggets start Nene and K-Mart in the post, two guys who have missed a combined 175 games over the last 2 years. Backing them up are Steven Hunter and Chris Anderson. Are you comfortable with the idea of Hunter or The Birdman being your backups?

11) L.A. Clippers – I have this rule. I call it the Ricky David Corollary. It goes something like this, “If Ricky Davis is playing significant minutes for your team, playoffs might not be in your future.” On the plus side, Clippers fans, when the team is 8 games out of the playoffs and Baron inevitably goes on the DL for 3 weeks, you’ve always got the reanimated corpse of Jason Williams to back him up…well, not anymore.

12) Sacramento Kings – They’re a mix of veteran role player types, some intriguing young guys, some washed up vets, and maybe the league’s most underrated star in Kevin Martin. If Brad Miller can repeat the success of last season, and their defense can improve a bit, Sacramento could surprise some people this year.

Up an Coming?

13) Seat…Oklahoma City Thunder – It’s the Kevin Durant Show! There are some nice pieces here, and I’m expecting a big year from Durant in his sophomore season. They’re a good young big man away from being really scary.

14) Minnesota Timberwolves – I love Love. I love Big Al. I’m not such a fan of them coming together to make up a decidedly undersized and un-athletic frontcourt. Do you see that tandem anchoring a contender anytime in the future? Yeah, me neither.

15) Memphis Grizzlies – You won 22 games last year, you traded your best player midway through the year, you lost both your starting 2-guard and your best bench player, and with 4 point guards on the roster, you drafted a combo guard. Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2008 Memphis Grizzlies!

Best in the West

PG – Chris Paul

SG – Kobe Bryant

SF – Carmelo Anthony (with Kevin Durant as a dark horse)

PF – Tim Duncan

C – Yao Ming

This list only changed one player from last year (Paul in for Steve Nash), and really I don’t think there’s much debate about any of these. Paul and Bryant are the best at their position, and I have a padded white room for you if you think otherwise. I think Anthony is a bit overrated, but there’s no one near his level at the SF spot in the West. Duncan is still the best (though the gap is closing), and Yao is the clear choice here if he can stay relatively healthy.

Rooks to Look For

These are guys who may not be high profile, but could surprise you with their effectiveness.

Anthony Morrow, SG, Warriors – We know Nellie loves guys who can shoot, and Morrow was absolutely unconscious this summer. He earned a contract with his solid play, and at 6′5 he’s got the size to get that potent shot off.

Sean Singletary, PG, Suns – The Suns traded D.J. Strawberry for Singletary, and he’s slated right now to be the second backup behind Nash and Goran Dragic (another rookie). However, if Dragic struggles, we could easily see Singletary steal the backup minutes. He carried a huge load in college and it wore on him, but he has a lot of talent.

Richard Hendrix, PF, Warriors – My pick for the annual Carlos Boozer “Undersized PF Who Falls Too Far In The Draft” Award. He’s quick and athletic for a big guy, he’s a mature player, and he’s a rebounding machine. That’s your recipe for rookie success, have one great skill and focus on that.

Rudy Fernandez, SG, Trail Blazers – Well, I couldn’t make this list and not have a Blazer on it. Fernandez grabbed the world’s attention when he capped off a dazzling display against Team USA by dunking the ball in Dwight Howard’s grill. He’s versatile, athletic and exciting. His game screams “Young Manu!”

BallerBlogger contributing writer ‘xphoenix87′ is a college student who dreams of one day writing about sports for a living. Since that’s not gonna happen, he’ll do this instead.

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