The NBA is the gift that keeps on giving. The western conference race in particular is quite intriguing. The battle for playoff positioning in the wild west will be an absolute dog fight. It’s an extremely deep conference and so I’m of the mindset that the margin between seeds 3-7 will be razor thin, making the west fun as hell to watch unfold in 2020.
One seed~ Los Angeles Clippers
LeBron James, you’ve ran this league for nearly a decade straight now, but it’s time for you to take a backseat. Kawhi Leonard just proved he’s now the most powerful man in the NBA. Moving to the Clippers and acquiring Paul George in the process, who was under contract with Oklahoma City for the next two years, is the most shrewd NBA move we’ve ever seen.
Overnight the Clippers have become the odds on title favorite for 2020. The Kawhi & PG one-two punch at the top is a seamless fit and dangerous duo. The rest of the roster is filled with gritty, hungry role players who have a high IQ and understand their roles i.e Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, and Landry Shamet.
They have a championship identity, fantastic defense, strong depth, plenty of shooting, and one of the better head coaches in Doc Rivers. It’s hard to find a serious flaw with this squad.
Two seed~ Utah Jazz
The Jazz don’t have enough star power to win a title this year. However, this team is tailor-made for a successful regular season resulting in a high 50’s win total. Utah acquired another backcourt weapon to pair with Donovan Mitchell this offseason in Mike Conley. In a league with several elite point guards, Conley has always been extremely underrated and lost in the shuffle.
Conley may go down as one of the best players in league history to never make an all star appearance, assuming he doesn’t make it with the Jazz. Conley’s tutelage for third year combo guard Mitchell will benefit him significantly. That tandem will be deadly together.
Elsewhere on this roster I look up and down and all I see his young defensive upside. Most notably, back to back defensive defensive player of the year and league’s top rim protector in center Rudy Gobert. Newly signed free agent Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, and Dante Exum provide plenty of shooting, slashing, and defensive ability. Combine this with the fact that Quin Snider is one of the best coaches in the association, there’s a lot to like about Utah.
Three seed~ Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers have been a dysfunctional, soap opera, circus show for the past few months. But throw it all out the window when considering where they fall in the west. Pairing LeBron James with a walking 25 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks per game in stud big man Anthony “The Brow” Davis is scary business.
The X factor for the Lakers 2020 season is the third option, third year forward Kyle Kuzma. He can unlock another level to this team’s potential if he maxes out his ability. His shooting percentages went down in his sophomore campaign after shooting quite well as a rookie. Expect those numbers to shoot back up with this new roster in place.
Newly added free agents Danny Green, Avery Bradley, and Jared Dudley provide necessary experience, toughness, and defensive ability.
The Lakers will go through the mid-season struggles that all LeBron teams of the past have dealt with. But come playoff time, with a healthy Bron, healthy AD, and the supporting cast buying in and accepting their roles, they’re as much of a title threat as anyone else.
Four seed~ Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets fall into the Utah category of really good, but not an actual title contender. There’s a lot to like about this team. It all starts with offensive stud and mountain of a big man Nikola Jokic. Him and young budding star guard Jamal Murray are a nice one-two punch with a bright future.
Gary Harris, Jerami Grant, Torrey Craig, and Malik Beasley round out one of the most underrated young cores, made up of some solid players with unknown names attached to them. In addition, savvy 34 year old veteran Paul Millsap returns. Denver put themselves on the NBA playoff map finding themselves just a win away from an appearance in the western conference finals.
They’re an outside threat to reach the conference finals this year. But, like Utah, they’d need some injury luck to either of the Los Angeles teams and other playoff contenders. If the 2019 playoffs showed us anything, it’s that injuries can change everything in the blink of an eye.
Five seed~ Portland Trailblazers
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have been a top three backcourt in the NBA for some time now. The two are absolute showman on the offensive side of the ball. They’ve overachieved in a tough western conference on multiple occasions throughout the years. This is especially impressive when considering Dame and CJ are both putrid defenders.
The lack of defense in Portland, particularly on the perimeter, hasn’t stopped them from winning a fair amount of ball games. This offseason, Portland added some potential defensive upside to their roster in Hassan Whiteside via trade. Whiteside is in a contract year and may be reinvigorated now that he’s out of Miami where he was constantly disgruntled.
Jusuf Nurkic, who went down with a gruesome leg injury late in this past year’s regular season, will return at some point to join Whiteside in the frontcourt. He’s a skilled big at age 24. Portland also has a promising young center in Zach Collins, entering year three and trending upward.
Blazers wings Rodney Hood and Kent Bazemore both provide a scoring spark to compliment Dame and CJ’s offensive prowess. It finally feels like this Portland era has an actual supporting cast and backbone to help the star backcourt tandem. They’ve needed to pull off a carrying act to stay relevant on a yearly basis.
Six seed~ Houston Rockets
Just when you thought the NBA offseason was cooling down and couldn’t get any crazier, holy sh*t Russell Westbrook is on the move to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and future draft picks. Two former MVP’s and teammates, who have both been top two in the NBA in usage, assists, and turnovers the past few years in James Harden and Westbrook will reunite.
Russ & Harden are two incredible talents who will continue to put up stupid, video game-like numbers. But when push comes to shove, like years past, Houston will go out quietly in the postseason. Westbrook has had four knee surgeries in the past six seasons and can’t shoot a lick. I’m talking sub 30% level bad from three, and hovering around 40% from the field overall. He’s trending in the wrong direction and is only getting older.
Houston will be interesting and right in the thick of the western conference playoffs still in all. Hanging onto Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, and Gerald Green is crucial and provides necessary shooting around the two stars.
Clint Capela is a nice young center but we’ve seen he becomes a complete liability when teams go small. He has zero perimeter game and so therefore every time he’s on the floor with Westbrook Houston’s will have a problem.
Westbrook will primarily looking to drive considering he finally has shooters around him and he can’t do it himself to save his life. Unfortunately for the Brodie, when he drives to the rim Capela’s defender will always be able to meet him at the rim because that’s the only place Capela can make an impact on the offensive end at this point.
It’s an interesting dynamic but at the end of the day Harden, Westbrook, and Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni aren’t built to close out games in the postseason. Expect the same type of failure they’ve had in the past early on in the 2020 playoffs.
Seven seed~ Golden State Warriors
This is the toughest call of them all for seeding. The most recent NBA dynasty has so many question marks heading into 2019-2020. After losing Kevin Durant to Brooklyn, Klay Thompson for a majority of this season with an ACL tear, and glue guy veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, the Warriors have to completely recalibrate themselves.
They’ve made the NBA finals the past five years but it’d be pretty shocking to see them make it out the west for a sixth straight time. Until Klay comes back, Stephen Curry, D’Angelo Russell, and Draymond Green will run the show for this team.
The Russell-Warriors fit is a hot topic these days. I’m going to bet that the stability of Golden State’s culture will get the best out of Russell early on. He’s not an all star in the west, but he’s a really skilled play-making guard who can make things happen for himself and his teammates.
Some wonder how he’ll adjust to playing off the ball more than he ever has alongside Steph. Russell shot just under 40% on catch and shoot threes last season. He’s playing with the greatest shooter in NBA history and one of the greatest teammates in league history. He’s always drawing plenty of attention from defenders.
And, Curry is superb at moving without the ball, finding open shots for himself constantly. As the two primary scoring options, they’ll play well together regardless of whose handling the ball.
The issue is going to be perimeter defense, as Steph and Russell are both pretty poor on that end of the floor. Couple that with the team as a whole lost a lot on the defensive side losing Durant and Igoudala. They’ll struggle to stop people until the two-way impact of Klay comes back into the fold.
Resigning rim protecting presence Kevon Looney and signing athletic big from Sacramento Willie Cauley-Stein bodes well for the Warriors front court.
Ultimately, the health of Thompson, whose expected to return from injury in February or March will determine the Warriors playoff placement. Regardless of where they fall in the standings, even without Durant the splash brother Warriors have a very positive track record in the postseason. They’ll be a tough out come next spring.
Eight seed~ San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have an outdated roster for what the modern NBA is. But I have blind faith in Gregg Popovich to squeeze them into the playoffs. He’s done it every single year for roughly two decades straight now.
Demar DeRozen is the Spurs franchise face. Expect another big year from him as he enters free agency next summer and will be looking for a big payday. LaMarcus Aldridge is a very solid no. 2 option, having been productive in this league for some time.
Promising young point guard Dejounte Murray returns from an ACL injury that sidelined him all of the 2018-2019 season. He will join Derrick White to create one of the best young point guard tandems in the association, particularly on the defensive end of the floor.
One year away: Just missed the cut~ Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans
Finals/NBA Champion pick: Los Angeles Clippers
Its ol’ Kawhi’s world we’re just living in it. He’s the best player in the basketball. His new running mate Paul George is the quintessential complimentary star who will play off of “The Klaw” swimmingly. The front office, coaching, and role players around the stars all check out.
The team across the hall in the Lakers has sixteen championship banners. But there’s a changing of the guard. The “little brother” franchise finally has greatness on the horizon. Clip city= Chip city in the year of 2020.