I’ve been waiting for Bogot long enough. With the start of the NBA season around the corner, it’s time for me to once again start putting my opinions on the line.
What follows are my regular season rankings for the Western Conference. Please note that my playoff rankings might differ considerably by the end of the season. My opinion of the Lakers is the most obvious example. If they manage to reach the end of the season with a healthy and rested (and somewhat deeper) roster, I will rank them higher for the playoffs.
Along with my ranking, I’m going to offer opinions of the Las Vegas regular-season win total lines for some teams. But when I offer a win total opinion in this post, that does NOT mean that I am going to bet this line. (I need a substantial perceived edge to bet. I’ll let you know which lines I’m betting in a later post.) Today’s opinions are just another way of stating which teams I think are over/undervalued headed into the regular season.
1. San Antonio Spurs: (56.5 wins: Over) I don’t see anyone ranking the Spurs atop the West, which I find curious. Didn’t this team go 50-16, earning the #1 seed, and win 20 consecutive games spanning the end of the season through the first two games of the Western Conference Finals?
And does anyone seriously believe that they will be worse this season? Yes, there is the ever-present age and injury risk to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. But starting rookies Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard will be considerably better, and late additions Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw will be better incorporated into the team. This year’s Spurs are deeper, better, and less reliant on Duncan and Ginobili.
And they still have the best coach in the league.
2. OKC Thunder: (59.5 wins: No opinion) There’s not much to discuss here, except whether the young players everyone already knows — Durant, Harden, Westbrook and Ibaka — will continue to grow.
3. Denver Nuggets: (51.5 wins: Over) Call it a hunch, but I’m willing to step out on a limb on the Nuggets. I see them as the Miami Heat West. A quintessential Nellieball team.
Let’s see: Mid-market running centers, McGee and Mozgov, check. Spread fours: Gallinari, Chandler, check. Dominant Nellie-sized defensive wings: Iguodala and Chandler, check. Point forward: Iguodala, check. Scoring point guard: Lawson, check. Deep bench: check.
Great tactical coach: George Karl, check.
The shooting is suspect. And they have a glaring lack of a closer. But the overall talent, speed and dominant wing defense are there. The Nuggets are going to take the league by storm.
4. Memphis Grizzlies: (48.5 wins, Over) One of the league’s best teams should be improved by the return to full strength of Zach Randolph, and the subtraction of OJ Mayo.
They still have a hole at shooting guard behind Tony Allen, but this is a tough, tough team that simply doesn’t get the respect it deserves from the refs in the playoffs.
5. LA Clippers: (49.5 wins, No opinion) The Clippers have a bench ridiculously loaded with big-name veterans this season. So much so that Bill Simmons fears that jealousies over playing time and roles might erupt.
But their depth is a big asset. The real problem I see is that outside of Chris Paul, I don’t like anyone in their starting lineup. Blake Griffin? I’ll take the less egotistical, higher IQ, better passing, better shooting, and clutch free-throw shooting David Lee, thank you very much.
Better teammate. Better basketball player.
6. LA Lakers: (56.5 wins, Under) The Five-Allstar, multi-billion dollar lineup sixth? Am I insane?
Maybe. But I foresee a lot of problems for the Lakers in the regular season. Chief among them the fact that they are an extremely old team that just won’t care as much about playoff seeding as they will about staying healthy and fresh for the post-season.
Then there’s the fact that they have the worst bench in the league. Literally the worst. Antwan Jamison? A loser in his prime. The Lakers bench is atrocious. Joe Lacob’s first two seasons atrocious.
What else? Well everyone assumes that Dwight Howard, a 6-10″ center who relies completely on his power and athleticism for effectiveness, will just jump right back to being the same player he was after having major back surgery. OK.
And everyone assumes that Kobe will be just fine with Steve Nash dominating the ball, and distributing shots to Howard and Gasol. Or Gasol dominating the ball in the high post of the Princeton offense. OK.
And everyone assumes that Mike Brown will be able to control this team.
7. Utah Jazz (43.5 wins: No opinion): The Jazz have another mess in the backcourt, where they apparently expect Mo Williams to run the point. My guess is that Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap will revolt against that sooner rather than later, and Jamaal Tinsley steps in to right the ship.
But their solid frontcourt of Jefferson and Milsap , and the ongoing development of youngsters Hayward, Kanter and Favors should allow the Jazz to lock up the seventh seed in the West with relative ease. It is shocking how badly the bottom teams in the West have fallen off.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves (39.5 Wins: No opinion)
9. Golden State Warriors (36.5 Wins: No opinion)
Assuming they’ll even be in the hunt, the Warriors got a huge break in the race for the 8th seed when Kevin Love broke his hand and Dirk Nowitzki had to get his knee scoped.
The TWolves will look to plug the gaping wound with Dante Cunningham, Andrei Kirilenko and Derrick Williams, which won’t be easy. But this is suddenly a team with a lot of veteran players — Roy, Kirilenko, Barea, Ridnour, Pekovic — who know how to play and win, led by one of the best coaches in the league. That makes them a favorite in my book to hang on until Love and Rubio return, and then make their run into the last playoff spot.
I will be writing a detailed analysis of the Warriors’ prospects in the next week or so, so I’ll keep this short. The idea that Andrew Bogut’s arthritic ankle will allow him to play effectively over a significant portion of the season is at this point nothing more than a fantasy. Without Bogut, the Warriors have exactly one playable center on the roster, the rookie Festus Ezeli.
The Warriors’ reality is that to start the season at the very least, they are once again a small-ball team, that must go to a full-out running attack to have any prayer of winning. A small-ball team saddled with an incompetent coach in Mark Jackson, who doesn’t know how to play small ball, and an incompetent amateur GM in Joe Lacob, who wouldn’t allow Jackson to play small ball even in the unlikely event he wanted to.
And then there is the Warriors’ best player, Stephen Curry, once again sitting out games to rest his ankle….
It is very difficult at this point to see how this can work out. It appears that the Warriors will need several medical miracles to make the playoffs this year.
But they’ve already gotten two, when Love and Nowitzki went down. It seems likely that this year’s 8th seed will have a losing record.
Dallas Mavericks: (43.5 wins: Under) I don’t think that the Mavs would have made the playoffs even before Nowitzki came up lame. The frontcourt of the Kamanosaurus and Nowitzki (Brand off the bench) has to be the worst in the league defensively. And the backcourt of Collison and Mayo is no better! Their best defender is 100 year old Shawn Marion.
How could this possibly work?
Portland TrailBlazers: (33.5 wins: Over) The Blazers have three fifths of a very good starting lineup in Aldridge, Batum and Mathews. The rookie point guard Damian Lillard also looks promising. They will apparently be looking to run more under their new head coach, Terry Stotts, which I think better fits their talents. But this team is just too thin on the front line and bench to make a sustained run.
Phoenix Suns: (32 wins: No opinion) The Suns might wind up a better team than people think. Luis Scola’s teams tend to overachieve, even as his stats have fallen off. Dragic has turned into a pretty good point guard. And I like the coach, Alvin Gentry. But there’s not enough here.
Sacramento Kings (30.5 wins: No opinion)
Houston Rockets (28.5 wins: No opinion)
New Orleans Hornets (26.5 wins: No opinion)
I’m going to spare you from thinking about these teams.