With the preseason coming to a close, many NBA teams are looking to have a successful season and hopefully find an answer for the defending NBA Champions, the Golden State Warriors. Many teams made big moves in the off-season, whether it be through the draft, free agency or trading, and seem to be more threatening to the Warriors. Although the Eastern Conference did make a few moves, such as the addition of Gordon Hayward, the West continued to add talent to their already overpowered conference. With additions to the conference such as Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Paul Millsap, the West will be tougher than ever before. Here’s how the Western Conference’s tight race for the playoffs will look in this upcoming 2017-2018 NBA season:
- Los Angeles Lakers
Considering the Lakers finished the season last year with the third worst record in the league and the second worst in the Western Conference, being the eighth seed may come as a surprise. However, the Lakers had an extremely productive off-season through trades, free agency and the NBA Draft. The Lakers were able to trade away their promising point guard, D’Angelo Russell, as well as center Timofey Mozgov, for center Brook Lopez. In addition to Lopez, they were able to sign lock-down defender Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a one year deal for $18 million. In the draft, the Lakers drafted UCLA star Lonzo Ball with the second overall pick, as well as Kyle Kuzma. Ball, who won the Summer League MVP Award, looks to be the facilitator the young Lakers need to finally develop their talent. Kuzma, on the other hand, has been the more surprising rookie so far, averaging 19.2 points in the preseason after an extremely impressive summer league. These new additions, along with the Lakers returning the young core of Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr., may be exactly what the Lakers need to finally push themselves back into the playoffs, a place they’ve missed the last few seasons.
- Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets were one of a few teams this off-season that was able to add an all-star to their already talented roster. They were able to sign All-Star forward Paul Millsap to a three-year deal with the team. The Nuggets look to improve from their disappointing season last year, finishing ninth in the Western Conference and just barely missing the playoffs. With Millsap joining future All-Star center Nikola Jokić, the Nuggets seem to have one of the best frontcourts in all of basketball. Jokić, who is only 22 years-old, averaged 16.7 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game, as well as having the highest offensive efficiency rating in the league from December onwards. The Nuggets also have their young core of Emmanuel Mudiay, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris returning this year. Paired with Millsap and Jokić, they could provide the Nuggets with the jump they need to make it back into the playoffs.
- Portland Trail Blazers
After being in talks to trade for both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, the Trail Blazers came back empty-handed in a fairly quiet off-season for the team. After finishing 41-41 last year and securing the eighth seed, the team was swept by the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. The Blazers have lots to look forward to this coming season, primarily due to their acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic, who the team traded for late last year. Nurkic only played in 20 games for the team last year, averaging 15.2 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game. The Blazers should be excited to see how the big man pairs with their skilled backcourt consisting of former All-Star Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Lillard will be on a mission this year after getting snubbed from the All-Star game the last three years.
- Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves stole the show at the NBA Draft, but not because of their selection. The team traded away Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the seventh overall pick in the Draft for former Chicago Bull All-Star Jimmy Butler. Butler, who averaged 24 points, six rebounds and 5.5 assists last season, looks to add some veteran leadership to an extremely young team. The Timberwolves also made other key additions, signing Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford. These new additions, paired with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, could make the Timberwolves extremely competitive in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, due to how extremely deep the Western Conference is following this crazy off-season, the Timberwolves may not be able to make as much noise as everyone thought they would. Nonetheless, they will have greatly improved from their 13th place finish in the conference last year.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder, who arguably had the best off-season in the league, look to improve from finishing sixth in the Western Conference last year. After trading away Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for Paul George, who is seen by many as a top five small forward in the league, the team was able to acquire Carmelo Anthony in a trade as well. George and Anthony alongside Westbrook are arguably one of the best trios in the league. However, in acquiring George and Anthony, the team gave up some depth and wasn’t capable of signing more players, leaving them with a depleted roster outside of their trio. Westbrook, who is coming off an MVP year of averaging a triple-double per game, will finally be back with other star players, something he hasn’t had since the departure of Kevin Durant. However, this brings up the question if all three of these stars will be able to share the basketball. After early season struggles, the Thunder will figure things out and eventually finish as the four seed. Look for them to make some noise in the playoffs.
- San Antonio Spurs
It seems like everyone underestimates the Spurs prior to every season, and everyone is proven wrong. The Spurs have the longest active playoff streak, with 20 straight appearances. This year will be no different. Along with this, the Spurs have been a top-two seed in the Western Conference for six of the last seven years. However, due to the high level of competition in the west this season, the Spurs may slip from the top two seeds once again. The Spurs continue to age, yet always find new talent that produces on the court. However, the Spurs lost Jonathon Simmons to free agency, as he signed with the Orlando Magic. To replace Simmons’s spot, the Spurs signed forward Rudy Gay. Gay average 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game last season. Although the Spurs are arguing they still have Kawhi Leonard, who may finally be ready to make the leap to win MVP. Leonard and the Spurs will remain a threat in the Western Conference, as usual.
- Houston Rockets
The Rockets, who finished third in the conference last year, look to improve on that and become the biggest threat to the Warriors. In an attempt to do this, the Rockets went out and agreed to a sign-and-trade with the Clippers for former All-Star guard Chris Paul, in exchange for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, Deandre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a first-round pick, and cash considerations. Although the Rockets gave up lots of depth, adding Paul may be what the Rockets need to compete with the Warriors. Paul and James Harden are now arguably one of the best backcourts in the league, and may be able to improve their potent offense, which was second in offensive efficiency, trailing the Warriors. Paul and Harden will be able to take turns running the point and make their teammates better with their impressive passing. The Rockets newest addition will propel them to the two seed, trailing only the Warriors.
- Golden State Warriors
The rich got richer. The 67-win Warriors were able to retain their entire roster, thanks to Kevin Durant taking a $10 million pay cut this summer. In addition to the returning team, the Warriors were able to sign shot creator Nick Young to a one year deal. They also added sharpshooting big man Omri Casspi. It’ll be tough for anyone to beat this Warriors team, which is arguably the best team in the history of the NBA. There is not much else to say. The Warriors will find themselves in the NBA Finals once again. And to all the opponents in their way: good luck.