The NBA released the schedule for the upcoming 2017-18 season on August 14th and I am HYPED. Here are the win projections I have for all of the teams in the Western Conference. Let me know where you think teams rank in the comments below!
Projected Record: 27-55
The Suns will once again find themselves as the worst team in the Western Conference this season despite drafting Josh Jackson with the 4th overall pick. Eric Bledsoe is due $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season. He will most likely be on the move via trade as the Suns look to rebuild around Devin Booker. The rest of the Suns are either too old, like Tyson Chandler who is 34, too young, like Tyler Ulis who is 21 and Marquese Chriss who is 20, or too raw, like Brandon Knight and Josh Jackson (who is also too young at just 20-years old).
Marquee Game: Saturday December 2nd @ Boston Celtics: The last time the Suns played in Boston was the game Devin Booker dropped a very controversial 70 points. It will also feature the third overall pick, Jayson Tatum, versus the fourth overall pick, Josh Jackson.
Los Angeles Lakers
Projected Record: 28- 54
This is probably the most controversial projection I have for the Western Conference. I know a lot of people are excited about Lonzo Ball and Brook Lopez, but those players are not enough to spark the Lakers back into being a relevant team in the NBA. Don’t forget, this team still needs time to develop. Brandon Ingram is the same age as Ball and is only 190 pounds despite being 6’ 9”. Lonzo also still shoots the ball with a technique that is a hair above Michael Kidd- Gilchrist’s “technique.” The bench for the Lakers is also a huge problem, with their most notable player off the bench being a tie between Larry Nance Jr. and Luol Deng/ Jordan Clarkson, depending on who starts. There is no denying that Lonzo Ball is a talented player that makes everyone around him better, but how high can the ceiling really get for players like Tyler Ennis and Ivica Zubac? Sorry Lavar, but your prediction of the Lakers making the playoffs this season are simply dead wrong.
Marquee Game: Friday October 20th @ Dallas Mavericks: Fans got an early taste of Lonzo Ball vs. Dennis Smith Jr., and in this matchup, we will get to see the two square for the first time in a full NBA regular season game. I am very high on Dennis Smith Jr. and can’t wait to see the two best point guards from the draft square off.
Projected Record: 30- 52
Dirk Nowitzki wanted to stay true to his franchise in a league full of ‘ring chasers’ and proved it with a $5 million dollar deal this past summer. He will join Kobe Bryant as the only other player in league history to play 20 seasons with the same team. However, the Mavericks will most likely remain in the basement of the league. On the bright side, the future for the Mavericks; Dennis Smith Jr., Seth Curry, and Yogi Ferrell is quite promising. The Mavericks will most likely be ‘selling’ this season to acquire young assets and draft picks for when Nowitzki retires at the end of either this season or in 2019. Look for Nerlens Noel to be dealt in exchange for at least a draft pick this season.
Marquee Game: Wednesday October 18th versus the Atlanta Hawks: I mentioned above that the future for the Mavericks is promising. That future will be on display against the Atlanta Hawks where Dennis Smith Jr. will make his NBA debut. I think Smith Jr. will end up being the best point guard from this past NBA Draft and I know I will be monitoring his success throughout his rookie season. Plus, if the Mavericks win, they will be tied for first in the Western Conference which will most likely be the only time that will happen all season.
Projected Record: 34-48
I think that the the departure of the Zach Randolph is going to hurt the Memphis Grizzlies a lot more than people realize. Gone are the days of Mike Conley dishing the ball inside to EITHER Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph. Teams will be able to focus inside on the Memphis offense because they don’t have many prolific three point shooters other than Chandler Parsons, who shot just 26% from three point range in limited action last season. Conley signed what was, at the time, the largest contract in NBA history of five years and $153 million! Marc Gasol is set to make $22 million just this season. Tony Allen is still a free agent and MAY be resigned by the Grizzlies, but it is unlikely. This is because the Grizzlies are paying so much to their top two players that they will most likely only be resigning power forward JaMychal Green before the season starts. The Memphis Grizzlies had some tough decisions this past offseason, and now they will face the consequences of giving a player like Mike Conley $28 million a year.
Marquee Game: Friday December 1st versus the San Antonio Spurs: I am a fan of Rudy Gay and his athletic style of play. Anytime he squares off against the Memphis Grizzlies, it means a little extra. Add in the fact that the Spurs are going to be a top team in the league, and you have a game for the Grizzlies to salvage a positive going forward for them this season.
Projected record: 35- 47
The Sacramento Kings had a fantastic draft in which they made some high-value picks in De’Aaron Fox, Harry Giles, and Frank Mason III. The Kings won’t be competing for the playoffs this year, but expect to see a lot of growth from young players on the roster as the Kings have the perfect blend of mentors to pass on knowledge to the future of the franchise. Fox and Mason III will get to learn from George Hill, Buddy Hield will get to learn from Vince Carter, and Willie Cauley- Stein and Harry Giles will get to learn from Zach Randolph. Look for the Kings to be a competitive team in 2018- 19 and beyond.
Marquee Game: Thursday October 26th Vs. New Orleans Pelicans: For the first time in seven years, the Kings will open the season without star center DeMarcus Cousins on the roster. He will return to Sacramento for the King’s fifth game of the season.
Projected Record: 38-44
The departure of Gordon Hayward to the Boston Celtics stung many Jazz faithful, and the burn will continue into this season. Rudy Gobert and Derrick favors are certainly a formidable frontcourt, but Joe Johnson is not getting any younger (he is 36) and Ricky Rubio is a downgrade from George Hill, who signed with the Sacramento Kings in January. The Jazz have a lot of questions going into this season, but I don’t think their status as a lottery team will be one of them.
Marquee Game: Wednesday March 28th Vs. Boston: This game will be Gordon Hayward’s return to the Jazz. The two teams will face each other in Boston earlier in the season, but it will be interesting to see how Hayward is ‘welcomed’ by Jazz fans.
New Orleans Pelicans
Projected Record: 39-43
With newly acquired Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins, who was acquired via trade last season, the New Orleans Pelicans will most likely miss out on the playoffs. The likes of Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis will go a long way to keep the team competitive, but the lack of a supporting cast outside of the four players already mentioned will keep the Pelicans in the loss column more often than not. It is my belief that DeMarcus Cousins may be on the move again this season, as he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of his 2017-18 campaign. The Pelicans will want to hold onto Anthony Davis for dear life and New Orleans isn’t big enough for both players. Cousins will be excellent trade-bait for a team looking for a one-year rental to make a playoff push.
Marquee Games: If there is any hope for the New Orleans Pelicans to make the playoffs, crunch time will be the final three games of their season. They will have road games against both the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers, then their season finale is at home against the San Antonio Spurs. The Pelicans will most likely not be able to afford going 0-3 to finish the season if they want to make the playoffs.
Projected Record: 41-41
A .500 record should be enough to get the Denver Nuggets into the playoffs. The addition of Paul Millsap and the emergence of Nikola Jokic as a premier center in the league certainly won’t hurt the Nugget’s cause either. Jokic averaged career highs in points, assists, and rebounds last season with 16.7, 4.9, and 9.8 per game respectively. The Denver Nuggets are a team based around their ability to score the ball posting 111.7 points per game last season, which was third in the league behind Golden State and Houston. While offense wins games, it certainly doesn’t win championships, and neither will the Denver Nuggets. The eighth seed in the Western Conference will have to do for this season.
Marquee Games: From March 17th through March 30th, the Nuggets will embark on a seven-game road trip. They will play the Grizzlies, Heat, Bulls, Wizards, 76ers, Raptors, and Thunder. This is a major test for the Denver Nuggets as they approach the end of the season and may be a deciding factor to see if they can make the playoffs.
Portland Trail Blazers
Projected Record: 44- 38
The Portland Trail Blazers finished the last two months of the season going 23-6. It is unrealistic to expect them to play that well for all of the 2017-2018 season. However, the addition of Jusef Nurkic was clearly the catalyst that gave Damian Lillard and company the push they needed to be the eighth seed. In the 19 games he started for Portland after his trade, Nurkic established himself as a player with a lot of potential at the center position in the NBA averaging 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Look for the Trail Blazers to have another playoff season, but yet another early playoff exit.
Marquee Games: Three of their last four games of the season feature road games against the Rockets, Spurs and Nuggets, who will all be looking to either make splashes in the playoffs or make them at all this coming season.
Projected Record: 46- 36
The Minnesota Timberwolves are going to have a fantastic season this year considering they finished 13th in the Western Conference last year. I predict they will nearly ‘flip’ their record from last year when they went 31- 51. With Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson, and Karl-Anthony Towns backed up by Jamal Crawford, Tyus Jones and Gorgui Dieng, this team has the makings of a solid 6th seed in the Western Conference. The only concern I have is the rush of so many new faces to the team all at once. How will Jimmy Butler adjust to playing with guys like Jeff Teague and KAT?
The Timberwolves are an up-and-coming team this season, and their first three games of the season will give an early indication of their ability to work together as they play on the road against the Spurs, at home against the Jazz, then at the Thunder. All three of those teams made the playoffs last year and will look to do the same thing this season (the Jazz maybe not as much).
February 9 @ Chicago Bulls: This game is Jimmy Butler’s first game in the windy city since being traded by the Chicago Bulls.
Projected Record: 47- 35
I am not high on the Houston Rockets this year. I think that having Chris Paul and James Harden together is bad news for a team given how much both players need the ball in their possession in order to be successful. The Rockets bench is also incredibly poor as its only player of depth is either SG Eric Gordon or SF Trevor Ariza depending on how Mike D’antoni adjusts his starting lineup. And don’t even get me started on ‘well what if Carmelo joins the team?’ The projections would get worse if this team traded what few assets it has left for yet another ball-needy player.
Wednesday February 28th @ Los Angeles Clippers: This game marks Chris Paul’s return to LA. Don’t expect him to receive too much heckling from the fans, but tensions will certainly be higher than normal for both fans and players alike.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Projected Record: 50- 32
It is clear that the Thunder will be better than they were last season. That much I know. The addition of Patrick Patterson is an upgrade over Taj Gibson, and who can forget the addition of Paul George? Russell Westbrook may not average another triple double this season, but that is a good thing for both him and Paul George. PG13 will, hopefully, be able to take the pressure off of Westbrook to play like a Demigod each night.
Marquee Game: See the next slide for the matchup against the Clippers.
Los Angeles Clippers
Projected Record: 50- 32
I know I know, I am projecting the Clippers and Thunder to have the same record. To be honest, I just can’t decide on who will be the third seed and who will be the fourth. At a glance, the loss of Chris Paul should be a crippling blow to a Clippers team that finished fourth in the Western Conference. However, I think that the Clippers got the better end of the trade and it will propel them to a third place finish in the Western Conference this season. The Chris Paul trade gave the Clippers Patrick Beverley, who is a defensive hound that will bring his all every night, Lou Williams, who is a hot-and-cold shooter, but he will be a solid player at the shooting guard position, and Sam Dekker, who will also provide some needed depth to a bench that lost perennial 6th Man of the Year candidate, Jamal Crawford. With the departure of Chris Paul, I think the haul the Clippers netted will ultimately help them play the more slow-paced and defensively-minded game that Doc Rivers traditionally utilizes. The Clippers also made a great signing in Danilo Gallinari, who is a 6’ 10” SF/PF hybrid that can shoot from anywhere, including three point range.
Friday December 22 @ Houston Rockets: This primetime matchup is the first time Chris Paul will face his former team and he WILL be looking to make a statement. It will be a great exhibition to see if I am right in thinking that the Clippers are better off without the ball-dominating guard in Chris Paul.
Friday March 16 @ Oklahoma City Thunder: Another primetime matchup features the team that I think will be neck and neck with the Clippers in the standings. On one hand, the Clippers are the better team, but you can’t take for granted the fact that Russell Westbrook and Paul George will be the two best players on the court for this matchup. This game may well decide who is the three and four seed.
San Antonio Spurs
Projected Record: 53-29
If there is a model for consistency in sports, it is personified by the San Antonio Spurs. However, I do have them finishing four games worse than last year. At the end of last season, Kawhi Leonard limped through the playoffs on an injured ankle and was put out of commission by Zaza Pachulia in the Western Conference Finals. Ankle injuries are tough to gauge, but the more you injure your ankles, the easier it is to re-injure them. Tony Parker suffered a ruptured quad tendon and will look to return in late January. Parker has been the face of the point guard position for the Spurs for over a decade, and his absence will hurt this team a lot more than people realize. Pau Gasol will be 37 and Manu Ginobili will be 40 this season. I shouldn’t have to say much more than that. Adding 30-year-old Rudy Gay wasn’t a bad move, but it certainly doesn’t put the Spurs into the 60 win category.
Marquee Game: See the next slide for the description of the game between the Spurs and the Golden State Warriors.
Golden State Warriors
Projected Record: 69-13
The Golden State Warriors replaced Center Anderson Varejao and Point Guard Briante Weber with Small Forward Omri Casspi and Shooting Guard Nick Young. These transactions mean the Warriors are sacrificing size for the ability to play even more ‘small ball.’ Look for the Warriors to feature even more three point attempts per game than the 31.5 they attempted last season, which was already good for fifth in the league. Many people also forget that Kevin Durant only played in 62 games for the Golden State Warriors last season. If he can stay healthy during the regular season, this team may post an even better record than their 67-15 campaign last season. Other than than adding more three point shooters, this team’s championship roster is returning in full force. They also remain as the near-consensus favorites to repeat as champions this season.
Thursday November 2nd @ San Antonio Spurs: This will be the first time these two teams meet since the Western Conference Finals. With a healthy Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs will be looking to prove to the league that they could have beaten the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals in last season’s playoffs.
Monday December 25th Vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: This will be the first time the two perennial powers in the NBA will square off since the Warriors bested the Cavaliers in just five games in the NBA Finals. Merry Christmas indeed!