2012-13 NBA Season Preview, Part 4
In Part 4 of their 5-part mini-series previewing the upcoming NBA season, Vinny Ginardi, Mike Aurigemma, Michael Cresci, Greg Kaplan and Tom McCarthy take a closer look at the Western Conference and how everything may shake out.
Western Conference Outlook
VG: So who’s west is it? The new-look Lakers or the Finals-runner up Oklahoma City Thunder? The Thunder should have the better regular season, as the Lakers will need some sort of time period to adjust to the new roster.
The Nuggets, even after trading Arron Afflalo, are a much better team than last season. Newly acquired Andre Iguodala will help stabilize a defense to pair with the fast-paced offense. The Clippers, Spurs, and Grizzlies should all fall in the middle of the playoff picture too.
The Mavericks almost didn’t make the playoffs last season and there’s a good chance they won’t make the postseason this year. This team is almost completely different than the one that won the Finals two years ago, and although they made some solid moves this offseason, it doesn’t make up for the swing-and-miss on Deron Williams.
The Timberwolves were contending for a playoff spot last year before Ricky Rubio went down with injury. If Rubio can return to full strength, Minnesota could make the playoffs this year. If Brandon Roy remains healthy, this could be a team that nobody wants to face.
As sleepers the Jazz and the Hornets could sneak into the playoffs. The Jazz almost made it last year, but faltered down the stretch. Utah has one of deepest frontcourts in the league. The Hornets have a solid young core in Austin Rivers, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis. If Davis is the real deal right away, an eight seed isn’t out of the question. Could be a big man and a year or two away though.
MA: There were some people who were talking about the Thunder amnestying Kendrick Perkins so they would be able to resign everyone of their core guys, but with Howard now on the Lakers that talk shoudl quiet down. I still have the Thunder ahead of the Lakers just because of chemistry and you know the Lakers will be preparing for a postseason showdown so we should see some rest for Kobe, Nash and Gasol to help keep their legs fresh.
The Nuggets have quuckly jumped to one of my favorite teams in the league with the addition of Andre Iguodala. On a team that can score in bunches with their speed, they desperately needed a defensive stopper and found one in Iggy. He is also an offensive player built to get out in transition so he should easily be able to find success in their system.
One team that I continue to be down on is the Clippers who even though have a solid lineup just seem to lack something along the way. They do not have a low-post threat by any means as Griffin has only mastered the Dwight Howard throw it in the rim move. And I also feel that they do not have a go to scorer when they really need it. In a conference that is loaded with talent, I can see the Clippers picking on the weaker teams and being a top 4 seed, but once again having no chance against much more balance teams in the Lakers, Thunder or Spurs.
As an under the radar team, I really like the Golden State Warriors. I loved the addition of Carl Landry who should help them get some points in the paint at a much higher clip. Mark Jackson as the head coach will do wonders for this team and if Stephen Curry can stay healthy throughout the season look out for the Warriors to be fighting for the 8th seed out West.
GK: A lot has been said, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. I love the T-Wolves at full health with Rubio and Brandon Roy. I love the Hornets and everything they have going on with their young players. The Lakers, Thunder and Spurs (at this point, you just have to pencil them into a Top 3 seed) will battle all year long for bragging rights. The Knicks West, err, Nuggets are always fun to watch and JaVale McGee is a one-man show. And the Kings need a remodel. That is all.
MC: The West is crazy deep so I won’t discuss every contender but there are two real contenders in LA and OKC. I want the Thunder to win. I’m no Lakers hater but I’m unabashedly in love with the Thunder. Kevin Durant is basketball’s most likeable star, Russell Westbrook is fun to watch and James Harden has the world’s greatest beard.
Barring major injuries it seems safe to predict a Lakers-Thunder Conference Finals and I’m going to go with the Thunder because I haven’t seen the Laker’s monstrous starting lineup in action. This may seem silly come mid season but for now I’m sticking with the under 25 crowd. Thunder dominate the West.
TM: This is a two team race to come out of the West, and anyone who says anything different is delusional or depending on an injury to one of the stars on the Lakers or Thunder. The Spurs are a well-coached team, but their offense depends more on precise movement than offensive talent, something that can overwhelm teams that don’t have a cohesive defense or elite players on that end. The Thunder have improved their defense every year, and the Lakers can afford to stay on the three-point line with Dwight Howard roaming the paint and covering the pick-and-roll. I think the Spurs missed their shot last year to win it all, and I don’t see them getting the chance this year.
As for everyone else, the Wolves don’t have the D to match their offense, and no one knows how Roy is going to play after a year away from basketball. The Trailblazers didn’t do enough to improve around LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Batum. The Clippers brought in a lot of experienced players (another way of saying a lot of old dudes who are past their primes), but they still don’t have a true 2-guard that can defend, and their big rotation is a huge question mark on the defensive end. The Jazz have a lot of talent, especially in the front court, but I like Mo Williams much more as a combo guard off the bench than I do as a starting point guard. The Warriors are going to be really fun to watch for the 25 games that Steph Curry and Andrew Bogut play together.
The non-Laker, non-Thunder team with the highest ceiling is the Nuggets, as they upgraded from the overrated Arron Afflalo to the underrated Andre Iguodala. Their best bet is probably to trade some of their depth at the wing (Iggy, Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer, Jordan Hamilton, Evan Fournier, and Quincy Miller all have an argument that they deserve playing time) for another front-court player that can score on something other than alley-oops or putbacks.