The NBA Extravaganza: A Deep Dive Into Every NBA Team And Where They'll Stand At The End of the Year
To all of my fellow NBA fans and self-proclaimed connoisseurs: We made it.
We're in it now. The 2019-20 NBA season tipped off last night with the debut game being brought to us by the Raptors beating the Pelicans in the world's least wanted overtime, and was followed by the first installment of the new and improved Lakers-Clippers rivalry.
This article's purpose is to provide a general context for what I believe the NBA season will look like this year as far as winners and losers go. I'll be providing you with my predictions for the end of the year standings in each respective conference, which will be followed up by a Power Rankings that includes all 30 NBA squads at the end of the piece.
I'm as excited for this season as I've ever been, and am stoked to see how the season plays out with all of the refreshed rosters.
The Almighty Western Conference
It's important to note that the Western Conference has been the superior conference for well over a decade now. The East has been anything but "almighty" in that time span, although they are the conference that's featured the most dominant player in the league for the last decade and a half (LeBron from 2005-2017, then Giannis from 2018-the foreseeable future). But not even Giannis or LeBron is great enough to catapult the Eastern Conference above the West, and that's because of the unparalleled depth in the West.
There are somewhere between 10-12 teams competing for a playoff spot in the West, while there's only like five or six organizations in the East that could perform up to the West's gaudy standards if they were to somehow infiltrate the conference.
So, like I've said before and will say many times hereafter, disintegrate the idea of conferences already, Adam Silver. Just give us the 16 best teams in the league, and let them duel it out for the championship. It's only fair to the teams like Dallas, Sacramento, OKC, and San Antonio that might have to sit on the couch and watch the New York Fucking Knicks play basketball in May instead of them.
Here we are, only a few days before the season even starts, and I'm already fired up and pissed off about the unfairness of the modern playoff seeding format. Let's just talk actual basketball already.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (57-25)
The only thing restraining my intense LeBron James and James Harden bias from putting the Lakers or Rockets at the top of the Western Conference Standings is the overwhelming amount of depth, and sheer talent level on this Clippers roster. We truly haven't seen anything like it in quite some time as far as all-around versatility goes.
They have three of the ten best defenders in the league in Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Patrick Beverley, and their bench mob consisting of Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Landry Shamet is as talented as a lot of team's starting units.
With Doc Rivers as the undisputed vocal leader of the squad, he'll be chasing his second ring as an NBA coach (his first since 2008 with the Boston Celtics). And although Paul George won't be seeing legitimate playing time till around November, the Clippers will be able to hold their own with Kawhi leading their scoring attack until then.
2. Houston Rockets (56-26)
The Rockets have been one of the two best teams in the Western Conference for the last several years since James Harden became the best offensive player in the league (and arguably one of the three best of all-time).
With the addition of Russel Westbrook, the Rockets have gained another attack-first mentality guard, and a player who is at the peak of his powers. It's also important to mention that Westbrook is as thirsty for a championship as anybody in the league including his running mate, James Harden.
Another key aspect to this offseason in Houston was that they maintained the majority of their key role players: Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker, Austin Rivers, and Danuel House in their deal to acquire Westbrook. There's a sense of familiarity with their roster, and the only difference is that Westbrook is a couple of inches taller than Chris Paul, a few years younger, and a hell of a lot more athletic at this point in their careers.
D'Antoni will have a lot of fun this year from a schematic standpoint, and has the privilege of staggering the two most ball-dominant players in league history. If Westbrook can accept his role as a cutter in half court sets while Harden's on the floor, then the Rockets have the potential to be hands down the most dangerous offensive team in the world.
3. Los Angeles Lakers (52-30)
In case you didn't know, LeBron James is entering his 17th season (and he'll gladly remind you of that), and he's coming into this season alongside the best player he's ever had the pleasure of playing with: Anthony Davis. Yes, 2019 Anthony Davis is a better all-around player than 2011 Dwyane Wade or 2016 Kyrie Irving.
There's an argument for AD as the best player in the league at this very moment. Full stop. He has an offensive arsenal that few big men have ever achieved in the history of the league. His face-up game is lethal, his back to the basket game is dominant, and he has the best handle out of all of the seven-footers in the league not named Kevin Durant.
The tandem will have to carry the majority of the offensive load with Boogie Cousins sidelined for the season with injury, but they won't be entirely alone considering they have Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green surrounding them. I for one don't expect a whole lot out of Kuzma because I personally believe he's a rather overrated and overhyped player, but I'm aware of the scoring potential he possesses. What I would like to see out of him though is a legitimate commitment to the defensive side of the ball, much like the player that Danny Green has been since his time in a Spurs uniform.
The most vital question for the Lakers this season will be how well the rest of the role players (Javale McGee, Dwight Howard, Quinn Cook, Rajon Rondo, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) can perform on a night-to-night basis because we know what we're going to get out of the two Gods in Lakers uniforms.
4. Utah Jazz (51-31)
Donovan Mitchell finally has a backcourt partner that's somewhere near his caliber of talent, and that backcourt partner's name is Mike Conley. A man who has been itching for a championship-level roster since the early 2010's teams he led in Memphis alongside Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
It's important that we don't overlook the other relatively minor acquisitions that the Jazz made by adding talents like Bojan Bogdanovic and Ed Davis. With Gobert anchoring the defense, Mitchell and Conley orchestrating the offense, and Joe Ingles (AKA Throw Singles) and Bogdanovic spotting up from three-point range, the Jazz should be towards the top of the league as far as contenders go.
5. Denver Nuggets (50-32)
Can the Nuggets take the next step? They had a disappointing exit last year in the playoffs and didn't have a go-to bucket getter when it came down to clutch moments against the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round of the playoffs.
There are no questions about the depth of their roster; they have between 10-11 guys that are more than deserving of significant playing time in the world's best basketball league. The big question is who is going to be on the floor in the final minutes of close contests against the other contenders throughout the league.
6. Golden State Warriors (48-34)
The Warriors lost Kevin Durant this offseason, and in the simplest terms possible: that really fucking sucks for them. But it's easier for them to look on the bright side than it was for OKC now that KD's departed for, in his mind at least, greener pastures.
The Dubs acquired the supremely talented, and still relatively young D'Angelo Russel in a sign-and-trade deal with the Brooklyn Nets this offseason. He'll be splitting reps at point guard with Stephen Curry, and is more than capable of playing off-ball as a combo guard when he's on the floor with the greatest shooter ever. It seems like everybody gets at least a little bit better when they put on a Golden State uniform, and much of the credit deserves to go to Steve Kerr: a genuine offensive genius.
Once Klay Thompson gets back (if he does, in fact, return this season after suffering a Torn ACL in the Finals in June), that's when shit's going to get real for the Warriors and the rest of the league. A lineup consisting of: Steph, D'Lo, Klay, Draymond and Willie Cauley-Stein is still one of the most talented starting fives in all of basketball.
Steph should be towards the top of the MVP race for the majority of the regular season, and we can anticipate him to return to the style of play we saw him utilize during his back-to-back MVP seasons when he made five three pointers per game and averaged 30 points. As a D'Lo fanatic, I just hope that Steph takes the young guard under his deadeye wing and helps shape him into the third splash brother.