Zion, LeBron, AD, Russ, Steph, PG13, Kawhi. Those are the names of not just some of the best players in the NBA, but the names of some of the best players in the Western Conference. With Kevin Durant moving east and teaming with Kyrie when his Achilles heals plus Klay Thomson recovering from a torn ACL, the Golden State Warriors are no longer the perennial favorites to represent the Western Conference. So the question has to be asked, who will overtake the Warriors as the best of the West? Here are some potential teams of interest.
I’m not sure if anybody has heard, but the Rockets got a little better offensively. The team traded for former MVP Russell Westbrook sending Chris Paul to OKC which gave the Rockets a starting five that is capable of putting 100 points on an opponent any night. James Harden who averaged 36.1 ppg last season has help from his former OKC brethren Russell Westbrook who averaged 22.9 ppg. Throw in Clint Capela who averaged a double-double and the team has all the talent to compete for the top spot but as we see with these team’s depth is always something to look at. Gerald Green may miss the season with a broken foot so players like Tyson Chandler and Austin Rivers may be all Houston has with a tight salary cap.
Something basketball fans should be watching for is the first 15-20 games is how the ball moves with Harden and Westbrook on the floor at the same time. With offensive firepower like those two have, teams will be keyed in on them defensively.
This seems to be the consensus favorite for the top team in the west. The acquisitions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would be enough to propel a team into consideration for a top four playoff spot. Perhaps more important than the two all-stars, is what’s around them, and look no further than a coach who is familiar with all-star caliber talent. Doc Rivers, as many Celtics fans may remember had Boston in championship talk for a 4-year period including one year which they hoisted the trophy in the garden. When given the right players, Doc can lead a championship team, but when it comes to what’s around Leonard and George their bench has some valuable upside as well.
The team extended Patrick Beverley who is a better defender than shooter but with the offensive production from others on the floor, that should have no negative effect on the starting 5. Lou Williams averaged 20 points per game off the bench and he most likely will be in the same spot again giving Doc a significant tool for the arsenal.
Kawhi won a title last year, but Paul George has yet to appear in an NBA final. This season gives him as good of a shot as any to get there once he returns from off season shoulder surgery sometime in November.
Let’s get this out of the way. The Lakers have LeBron, they have AD, give them the championship. That maybe a little exaggerated but you get the point. The Lakers finally got their man via a trade during the offseason, but fans of the Lakers and the rest of the league have to look at what’s around LBJ and AD. Rajon Rondo has made a comeback from being one of the biggest headaches in the NBA to being helpful to the Lakers franchise. To go along with 9.2 ppg and 8 rpg, Rondo also had a buzzer beater against the C’s at the garden last year, but besides that I’ve been impressed at what he’s given the Lakers.
Just like the Rockets, the Lakers are going to have to be frugal in their spending or in trades this season. According to spotrac.com, the Lakers are expected to have about $11 million in free cap space which makes any injury to the starting five of the Lakers even more significant. Games played for Anthony Davis is something that I’ll be watching since he’s only played 75 games twice in his 7-year career and only 56 last season. The Lakers will be a top 4 team, but top of the west? Maybe with a clean bill of health.
The Western Conference will feature games with huge playoff implications as the season continues and a three game losing streak or worse could be make or break but some regular season matchups may be worth staying up for throughout the 2019-20 season. Coming up later in the week, I’ll look at the eastern conference including the Celtics.