You know the scariest part of every horror film that you've ever watched? The part in which you slowly find yourself wanting to look away but you simply just have to see what happens. Well, spoiler alert...that's what the Western Conference of the National Basketball Association is going to be like this year. Before the 2019-20 NBA season, media outlets all over the world talked about how competitive the West was going to be. How it was going to be an absolute brawl to make the playoffs that season. Well, the depth in this conference this year looks like a massacre compared to its previous season.
The Western Conference this year is STACKED. The playoff teams from last year are reloaded and ready for war. Even teams that didn't make the playoffs last year got better, including the Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, and of course that one Golden State Warriors team. You can make an argument that up to 10 teams in this conference are all worthy of a playoff spot. It's going to be pure madness throughout the entire course of the year and we cannot wait. Health and depth will be important for all of these teams, especially with such a crammed schedule that will see teams playing more frequently than ever. Below we breakdown each team in the conference, analyze questions and potential "wildcards" with each organization.
The Question: Can Dallas continue to take steps forward?
As long as the Dallas Mavericks have that guy Luka Doncic on the floor, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with. But, there's going to be some speed bumps to get over in the early part of the season. It's been reported that Kristaps Porzingis is expected to hopefully return to the Mavericks by January. The "Unicorn" will be welcomed back with open arms, but the Mavericks are going to need to find a way to replace his production until then. Having big man Dwight Powell back will be a solid addition as well. Don't forget about the return of Jalen Brunson who has been a crucial part of this Dallas rotation. The Mavericks will most likely look for some early contribution from their rookie class, including first-round selection Josh Green and sharpshooter Tyrell Terry.
The Wildcard: Josh Richardson
I loved the move from Dallas to get themselves a little more defensive help on the wings with the acquisition of Josh Richardson from Philadelphia. Richardson should become a useful defensive asset on the wings. Richarson is more known for his defensive versatility, but there's still some potential for him to be a strong 3-and-D asset for this team. It wouldn't be much of a surprise if head coach Rick Carlisle can bring out the best of Richardson's game. Last year with the Sixers, Richardson averaged 13.7 PPG.
The Question: Are the Nuggets Title Contenders?
I think this could be the year in which the Denver Nuggets find themselves making some serious noise right out of the gate. If you remember last year, superstar big man Nikola Jokic took a while to hit his stride after dealing with some conditioning issues. Jokic showed up to the NBA Bubble in phenomenal shape and it looks as if he's kept his weight off in the meantime. If Jokic hits the ground running, and Jamal Murray continues his rise to stardom, this Nuggets team should be a serious force early on in the NBA season. Gary Harris is finally healthy and Will Barton finds himself in a potential contract year. A sleeper addition to this Nuggets roster is "veteran" rookie Facundo Campazzo. The 29-year-old was brought in from overseas and has wowed during the preseason with his playmaking ability. It will be interesting throughout the course of the year if a number of the Nuggets first-round selections can make an impact as well. Keep an eye out on Zeke Nnaji. The former Arizona product is an energetic rebounding machine and could become a promising rotation asset as the year progresses. Yes, we still will have our eye on Bol Bol...thank you for reminding us.
The Wildcard: Michael Porter Jr
It's finally time for Mike Malone and the Nuggets to unleash Michael Porter Jr. The 6'10" wing showcased his serious upside throughout the NBA Bubble, but Malone let it be known that MPJ needed to become a more complete two-way player in order for him to gain serious minutes. It seems as if the message was received loud and clear, as Porter has referenced numerous times throughout the offseason that he wants to become an asset on the defensive side of the ball as well. If Michael Porter Jr can blossom into the player that we all believe he can be...this Nuggets team is going to receive a SERIOUS spark in their roster.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
The Question: What Will be Golden State's identity?
Golden State Warriors fans are ready for their revenge tour and we cannot wait to see Steph Curry back on the floor for an entire NBA season. It was the biggest buzzkill in NBA history when it was announced that fellow splash brother Klay Thompson would miss another NBA season. A team that has always been positioned as an offensive powerhouse now finds themselves looking for a new identity. So what could that identity be? The answer in one word...length. After acquiring Kelly Oubre Jr in a trade, the Warriors now find themselves with a starting lineup that has the potential to become a problem on the defensive side of the ball. Oubre will be called upon to provide an offensive spark alongside Steph Curry, but he also is an intriguing addition alongside versatile defender Andrew Wiggins. With Draymond Green manning the defensive side of the ball, this Warriors team could shock opponents with their defensive potential. Especially if a new addition makes some noise sooner than expected...(see below).
The Wildcard: James Wiseman
Yes Warriors fans, you're going to find yourself in for a treat this year when the big fella finally takes the floor. We have yet to see this year's second overall selection take the floor in the preseason and odds are that the Dubs will bring along their new shiny toy slowly. But make no mistake, the James Wiseman experience is going to be a mouth drooling one. Wiseman is worth the hype and his skillset will be too intriguing for the Warriors to not insert into the starting lineup eventually. A 7'1" freak of nature, Wiseman runs the floor like a guard and will give Steph Curry and Draymond Green a weapon that they have never played with. If Wiseman can hit the ground running, especially with his impact on the defensive side of the ball, this Warriors team will have a monster in the middle of their defense. Expect Draymond Green and Wiseman to be best friends throughout the entire year.
The Question: What Happens with the Elephant in the Room?
I mean we have to address it folks. We simply just HAVE to talk about it. The James Harden experience in Houston is getting messy in a hurry. All of our attention will be on how the Rockets look throughout the first month of the year. If Houston struggles, don't be surprised if the trade rumors start to get hot in a hurry. As I write this section, it was reported that James Harden threw a basketball at one of his teammates in practice due to frustration. While I respect Harden paying tribute to Billy Madison, it continues to fuel the fire that Harden's days in a Rockets uniform could be coming to an end. But who will push all of their chips into the middle in order to acquire the offensive superstar? Only time will tell.
The Wildcard: Christian Wood
I still think this could be one of the most underrated additions of any team during the NBA offseason. Christian Wood was grinding for his entire life in the G-League, waiting for a team to finally give him his shot. That team last year was the Detroit Pistons, and Wood blossomed when given the opportunity. Houston jumped at the chance this offseason, signing Wood to a three-year $41 million contract. The Harden situation will continue to be what most have their attention on, but Wood should be a fantastic addition moving forward for this Rockets organization. Christian Wood averaged 13.1 PTS and 6.3 REB last year for the Pistons while shooting 56.7% from the field and 38.6% from 3.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
The Question: What version of the Clippers will we see this year?
There's just an overall strange buzz moving forward with this Clippers team. After an offseason that leaked plenty of messy drama about the 2019-20 season, it will be fascinating to see how the Clippers look early on in the 2020-21 season. There's a new man in charge, as the Clippers decided to hand the keys over to Ty Lue as their new head coach. It's going to be a telling season for the Clippers. After disappointing in the NBA Bubble, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George should be more motivated than ever to prove the Clippers are contenders in the West this year. The Clippers lost last year's 6th man of the year, Montrezl Harrell, in free agency but replaced him with veteran big man Serge Ibaka.
The Wildcard: Luke Kennard
When the Clippers traded Landry Shamet in a three-team trade to acquire Luke Kennard, I was intrigued. It seemed as if the Clippers were swinging for the fences on a player that has some promising upside as a serious rotational asset. Kennard has some serious talent but has struggled to stay healthy as of late. The Clippers then went all-in on Kennard yesterday, signing him to a four-year $64 million extension. If Kennard can reach his potential, and stay healthy throughout the course of the year, the ability for him to be a serious asset for this roster is there. Last year in 28 games for the Detroit Pistons, Kennard averaged 15.8 PPG while shooting 39.9% from 3.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Question: Is Health the only concern for the Lakers?
It's downright TERRIFYING how much better the defending champs got during the offseason. If depth was in question last year, you can be sure that the Lakers heard the message loud and clear. A hat tip goes out to GM Rob Pelinka who has the Lakers re-loaded and ready to defend their title with an impressive roster. We know how good Lebron James and Anthony Davis are. That's a given. But the rest of the Lakers roster has come together nicely. Veteran additions Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews should fit perfectly for this team. The move of the offseason was acquiring Dennis Schroder in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Schroder has made it a point in the media that he wants to finally start, so that will be an interesting situation to monitor moving forward. Personally, I think that the Lakers would be stronger if Schroder were to come off of the bench and make another run at 6th man of the year...but time will tell us. Montrezl Harrell will also be a MASSIVE addition for the Lakers with his rebounding and energy off of the bench.
The Wildcard: Talen Horton-Tucker
It brings serious joy to my heart when you see a team take the patient route with one of their raw prospects. The Lakers did exactly that with their 2019 second-round pick. Talen Horton-Tucker was one of the youngest players drafted in the 2019 class. The former Iowa State product had a fascinating skill set that just needed some time to develop. The Lakers saw the same thing, allowing THT to develop some confidence in his game as he spent his entire rookie season playing in the G-League for the South Bay Lakers. Now, it looks as if the Lakers are ready to reap the rewards of THT's development. The 20-year-old has looked SENSATIONAL during the preseason so far, and he looks to be a potential swiss-army-knife addition for this Lakers rotation.
The Question: Is everyone sleeping on the Grizzlies?
This has been a topic of conversation that has awoken me in a sweat during the middle of the night. Am I missing something with the Memphis Grizzlies? A young team that shocked the NBA last year and was moments away from a playoff spot, the Memphis Grizzlies will have all hands on deck for another run in the Western Conference. I love this Grizzlies team moving forward. They have a rising superstar in Ja Morant who is only going to continue to get better and they continue to add valuable surrounding pieces. Jaren Jackson Jr is recovering from surgery in August, so the Grizzlies will have a bit of an uphill challenge until he returns, but I don't think it's out of the question that this young team can continue to take steps forward in their development. Keep an eye out on Brandon Clarke, who was fantastic during his rookie year with the Grizzlies.
The Wildcard: Desmond Bane
This was personally one of my favorite additions by any team during the 2020 NBA Draft. The Grizzlies moved up to 30 in order to acquire versatile wing Desmond Bane out of TCU, and he should make an immediate impact for this team. Bane is a high basketball IQ type of talent who can really spread the floor with his shooting ability. When you have a young team that is blossoming, it's important to add intelligent pieces to the puzzle. Bane might not have been a "swing-for-the-fences" type of prospect, but the Grizzlies know exactly the type of asset they are getting with his ability.
The Question: Can Minnesota become a dark horse in the West?
There's no denying the amount of talent that this Minnesota Timberwolves roster has at its disposal. With Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell at hand, the T'Wolves have some serious offensive firepower to go to battle with. The question is, can the Wolves hit the ground running and open some eyes around the NBA? Adding this year's first overall selection in Anthony Edwards should be a welcomed addition as well. Edwards will take some time to become a more consistent threat offensively, but if his game can "click" earlier than expected...the Wolves could be a thrilling team to keep an eye on. There's also a number of intriguing pieces to this team including veteran guard Ricky Rubio, and versatile defender Josh Okogie. Keep an eye on Naz Reid as well. The second-year big man showed some intriguing upside throughout his rookie year with the T'Wolves and he could become a bit of a sleeper asset this year.
The Wildcard: Jarrett Culver
Can we please give Jarrett Culver some more love? The internet has moments where it's a dark place and there was simply too much Jarrett Culver slander throughout this NBA offseason. It's tough because I personally understand that fans can be impatient, especially when a team invests in a lottery selection. Minnesota traded up in the 2019 Draft in order to draft the former Texas Tech product and Culver has taken some time to have his game come around. Unfortunately, this was expected, as Culver was a raw offensive product out of college. But the versatile wing should be ready to take a serious step forward during his second year in the NBA. Culver has impressed in the preseason, averaging 11.3 PPG while shooting 57.1% from 3. He shot 28.0% from 3 in last year's preseason games. Baby steps T'Wolves fans....baby steps.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
The Question: How far can a "healthy" Zion take the Pelicans?
Admit it. We all want to see Zion Williamson play a "full" NBA season. It's the worst kept secret with all basketball fans. The health of Zion is always going to be a concern moving forward until he proves that he can withstand a full NBA calendar year. We all know the type of presence that Zion is when he's on the floor. He's one of the most exhilarating young talents in the entire league. After losing Jrue Holiday in a trade with Milwaukee this offseason, it's going to be fascinating to see what this Pelicans team can do this year. Don't sleep on the Steven Adams acquisition as well. If anything, Zion and Adams should prove to become one of the most terrifyingly strong big man combinations in the league. Can you imagine opposing teams trying to start a brawl with those two? If you haven't been watching the Pelicans during the preseason, you should just know that Zion has been on a warpath. It's only been two games, but Zion averaged 28.5 PTS, and 10.0 REB while shooting 57.1% from the field. Please Basketball Gods give us a full season of the Zion experience.
The Wildcard: Kira Lewis Jr
I will continue to go down swinging on prospects I was extremely high on in this year's draft class until I'm convinced they won't pan out. I think that the Pelicans got themselves a heck of a player in Kira Lewis Jr at 13th overall. It's going to take some time for Kira to hit his stride, so just be patient Pelicans fans. The point guard position is one of the most difficult positions to transition to in the NBA. Every young guard has the game start to "click" at a different part of their career. Some hit the ground running early. Others take their first season to see the game finally slow down. The Pelicans new floor general might not turn heads right away...but keep a close eye on him.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
The Question: Can Shai Gilgeous-Alexander carry the Thunder?
FINALLY. IT'S SHOWTIME IN OKC. The Thunder overachieved last year and even made some noise in the playoffs. It was a great developmental year for a number of the young talent on this roster. You could argue that no player probably benefitted more than talented guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The 22-year-old spent the year playing alongside Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. After both players were traded this offseason, the message is clear in OKC...It's time to unleash Shai. It's a thrilling development for basketball fans all over, as we finally get to see what SGA can do running a team full-time. GM Sam Presti went full throttle this offseason and looks to be determined to acquire 100 draft picks over the next couple of years. Still, there's plenty of intriguing young pieces to keep an eye on this year including Lu Dort. Don't sleep on second-round selection Theo Maledon. The rookie is a seasoned guard who plays like a veteran and could become an absolute steal for this Thunder organization moving forward.
The Wildcard: Darius Bazley
Although plenty of fans will be intrigued to see how Shai Gilgeous-Alexander does as the man in charge this year for the Thunder, Darius Bazley will be another player to keep an eye on. Bazley opened some eyes with his performance at the NBA Bubble and looks to be another promising developmental talent for this team. At one point during the Bubble play, Bazley was averaging 12.3 PPG and 5.5 REB while shooting 41% from 3. He could be a player that could take a big step forward in his second season.
The Question: Can the Suns become a force in the West?
The answer is yes. After acquiring veteran Chris Paul in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason, the message is clear. The Phoenix Suns are going for it. After shocking the basketball world with an undefeated 8-0 record in the NBA Bubble, the Suns have the undivided attention of the entire NBA. They have earned the respect but now can the Phoenix Suns make a serious push towards becoming a Playoff contender. Chris Paul should become a massive addition, not just because of what he can do on the court, but for what he will provide to so many of these impressive young pieces on this Suns roster. GM James Jones did a fantastic job adding a number of key pieces to this roster throughout the offseason. Veteran wing Jae Crowder was a huge addition and will provide some nastiness to this core with his ability as a two-way player. The Phoenix front office also did a great job re-signing a couple of important assets also including Dario Saric and Jevon Carter. All eyes will be on big man Deandre Ayton as well, who should thrive playing with CP3. That Devin Booker kid is pretty good in case you haven't heard...
The Wildcard: Cam Johnson
I came away impressed with the rapid development of Cam Johnson while the Suns were playing in the NBA Bubble. The Suns opened some eyes around the league when they decided to take Johnson with the 11th pick in the 2019 Draft, but it looks like Johnson is a good one. Cam saw a lot of minutes in the Bubble as a small-ball four and he did a great job making a positive impact on the glass during those minutes. If Johnson can take another step forward in his development, and continue to become a floor-spacing weapon for this Suns team, he's going to be a big part of this team's success this year.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The Question: Is it Portland's turn to make some noise?
I've heard people say that Portland ISN'T a potential title contender this year and I want to get those people checked into the Arkham Asylum immediately. Seriously, put them in isolation in a cell directly next to The Joker. This Portland roster looks fantastic and I think you can debate that it's the deepest roster that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have had during their careers with the Trail Blazers. Besides Phoenix, I think that Portland's front office had one of the most impressive offseasons of any team. Portland continues to add strategic pieces throughout their offseasons, and this one might have been GM Neil Olshey's best haul yet. Portland moved their first-round selection in the 2020 Draft to acquire versatile 3-and-D veteran Robert Covington from the Rockets. It's the type of player that the Blazers have been missing. But Olshey wasn't done there, adding the highflying Derrick Jones Jr, formerly of the Miami Heat, to the mix. DJJ has become a respectable versatile defensive weapon in the league and he should provide the Blazers with some great depth. After re-signing Carmelo Anthony and acquiring back Enes Kanter in a trade, the Blazers have something that's so crucial for success in this league...DEPTH.
The Wildcard: Harry Giles
This was one of those "sneaky" additions by the Trail Blazers during the offseason. Harry Giles was one of those free agents that basketball fans across the league were curious to see who would take a flier on. Giles has been in Sacramento for the last two years but has struggled to stay healthy. It's one of those situations in which a player might just need a fresh new start. There's no denying that Giles has the talent, but can someone unlock it? Portland jumped at the opportunity, and Giles is still oozing with upside. The 22-year-old could become a huge addition to this Blazers rotation off of the bench and he impressed throughout the preseason. In 4 preseason games, Giles averaged 10.8 PTS and 9.0 REB in 21.5 MIN.
The Question: How can the Kings get back on the right track?
The Vlade Divac era has officially come to an end. Now, the Sacramento Kings have a new man in charge. So far...it looks like Monte McNair was a heck of a hire. Sacramento had themselves one of the more impressive hauls in the entire league on draft night. It looks as if all three of their selections will make the roster, which is always a huge get for an organization. Perhaps the biggest news of the entire offseason was the Kings re-signing franchise star De'Aaron Fox to a lengthy extension. There's some positive vibes building with this organization and it seems as if the Kings might be getting themselves back on the right track. Unfortunately for the Kings, they find themselves in a bloodbath of a conference. But this Sacramento team has surprised us before. Perhaps they can be a potential wildcard in the west...
The Wildcard: Tyrese Haliburton
This was a MASSIVE win for the Kings organization on draft night. I personally had Tyrese Haliburton ranked 5th on my board and I still shake my head at the fact that he fell to 12th. It happens in every draft. A player slips through the cracks and get's drafted later than we expect. This year, Haliburton looks to be the leading candidate for "how did that happen." Haliburton hasn't skipped a beat and has been exciting to watch in the NBA preseason with his two-way ability and playmaking skills. He's going to be a valuable piece for this organization and it wouldn't surprise me if the Kings try to get him some extended run playing alongside De'Aaron fox at times.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Question: Will the Spurs surprise us again?
NBA Rule #26...Never underestimate a team in which Gregg Popovich is the head coach. It's not going to surprise me when the Spurs somehow are the 4th seed in the middle of the season. I've seen this story way too many times folks. The Spurs are finally healthy and they continue to have their same foundation ready to roll. Veterans LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan will continue to do their thing for this Spurs team. The assortment of young talent this Spurs roster has, especially in the backcourt, is something to keep an eye on. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker IV could all be players that continue to take another step forward with their games. Don't forget about 2019 draft pick Keldon Johnson as well.
The Wildcard: Devin Vassell
WHY DO WE KEEP LETTING GOOD PLAYERS FALL TO THE SPURS?! I WANT ANSWERS. On a serious note, I couldn't be more excited that Devin Vassell fell to the San Antonio Spurs at 11th overall. This could be a perfect marriage moving forward for both parties. Vassell is a lengthy wing who makes winning plays on both sides of the ball and he's impressed throughout the preseason with the Spurs. It will be interesting to see where he falls in the regular-season rotation during the first month of the season. In 3 games during the preseason, Vassell went on to average 13.7 PPG, 5.3 REB, and 3.0 STL while shooting 50% from downtown.
The Question: Will Utah come out Firing?
I find myself warming up in a hurry to the idea that the Utah Jazz could put their foot down as a serious contender early on in the season. Last year we all expected the Jazz to be a bully in the Western Conference but it always takes some time for teams with so many additions to hit their stride. The Jazz seemed to be firing on all cylinders during the Bubble, thanks to the possessed ability of star guard Donovan Mitchell. But now the Jazz are finally healthy and will get a number of key players back including versatile wing Bojan Bogdanovic. This Jazz team could come out firing right away and get the attention of the rest of the league in a hurry.
The Wildcard: Mike Conley
It was a bit of a rollercoaster season for Mike Conley last year as he didn't hit the ground running for Utah. Conley struggled early on but seemed to finally get in a good rhythm with his team during their play in the NBA Bubble. With a "full" offseason under his belt, it wouldn't surprise me if Conley comes out playing at a high level for this Jazz team right out of the gate. There's still some scary upside with this team if they can all get on the same page, and Conley could be the type of player that gets this team off to a hot start.