AB’S 2018-2019 NBA SEASON PREVIEW, PART 2- THE WEST.
For this season’s NBA season preview, I tried to make it a LOT more concise & a much quicker read for you, so here’s my condensed version of 2018-19 Association preview:
***Note: Next to each team will be my projected win total (+/- 4) & in parenthesis where they will finish in their conference (1-15) overall***
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE
UTAH JAZZ: Projection: 50-54 wins. (3)
I Love the Utah Jazz this year. This could be the REAL legitimate threat to Golden State (not Houston). They have a budding star in Donovan Mitchell, a defensive player of the year candidate in Frenchman Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio runs the point very well & Joe Ingles provides a sharpshooter on the perimeter. Joe Crowder, Alec Burks, & Dante Exum off the bench provide decent depth & they have one of the top-5 coaches in the league with Quinn Snyder running the show… Utah will be around for a while!
DENVER NUGGETS: Projection: 48-52 wins. (4)
If I say I love Utah, well then hold my beer Denver! If you don’t know the name Nikola Jokic, then get familiar. This guy is a Top-10 talent in the league. Can his supporting cast bring him enough scoring is the question. Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Milsap & Jamal Murray make up the rest of their starting 5 with Isaiah Thomas, Trey Lyles & Mason Plume off the bench. Denver doesn’t have enough depth on this roster right now to be a legitimate contender for the West, but they play hard & will win a whole bunch of games. The mining process takes time, but Denver is close to striking gold!
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: Projection: 46-50 wins. (6)
I am not a fan of score-first point guards, like Russell Westbrook. But, you do have to respect the fact that this guy plays every game like it’s his last. The Carmelo experiment is over & now they can get back to Russ as the #1 option, with Paul George inking his 4-year deal, these two are a pretty cool 1-2 punch. Steven Adams is a walking double-double & brings a good level of toughness to the paint for this team. But, outside of that, they will struggle. Especially with Russ coming off of knee surgery, he’ll get a late start to this year’s campaign & they could fall behind quickly in a very difficult conference. 46 might be on the high side, folks.
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS: Projection: 38-42 wins. (10)
Portland, so close, yet so far. Damian Lillard is such a talent at the point guard position & CJ McCollum pairs nicely with him. Just Turkic is their Big man inside but what else do they have? Imagine is LaMarcus Aldridge would’ve stayed? They could’ve been “next” in the Rose City. Keep an eye out for a couple of BIG 10 guys in Ohio State alum Evan Turner & Michigan Man Nik Stauskas off the bench. I have them on the outside looking in this year…
MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES: Projection: 45-49 wins. (7)
What in the world happened this off-season? Jimmy Butler demands a trade, Thibs won’t trade him, ownership wants to trad him… what in the hell is going on? What I can’t seem to understand is why Minnesota, who was able to acquire Andrew Wiggins & draft Top-10 talent Karl Anthony-Townes, decided to re-make the 2010 Chicago Bulls? Derrick Rose provided a spark at the end of last season, but add Taj Gibson & Luol Deng? If that group didn’t get it done 7-8 years ago, it more than likely won’t happen this year. I am a fan however, of how Minnesota brought some more intrigue to what could be the top-to-bottom most competitive division in the Association. I want good things for KAT & Co. but everyone better be on board!
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Projection: 62-66 wins. (1)
It’s the Golden State Warriors. The most dominant franchise in the present era. The NBA’s greatest shooter, Steph Curry, paired with one of the elite scorers in history, Kevin Durant. Add in another sniper & perennial 1st-team all defense candidate Klay Thompson. Glue-guy & hustle machine Draymond Green & a coach who can manage all of that personality… Dominant in every facet of the word. Golden State could quite possibly be the great team ever assembled… and they added DeMarcus Cousins (he’ll be back from injury eventually). They’ve won the title 3 out of the last 4 seasons… can they make 4 out of 5?
LOS ANGELES LAKERS: Projection: 46-50 wins. (5)
It’s SHOWTIME! LeBron’s Lakers Era officially begins & this team is must-watch TV all season. They have enough storylines already that those on the Lakers beat will have material for days to write about. In short, the Lakers + LeBron have a legit shot at being a 3-seed. I have them at 5 because I don’t think LeBron has to play all 82 games & with all of the off-season acquisitions, i think there will be a little bit of a learning curve on how all the pieces fit together. Plenty of offense from the Lakers & “Showtime” is back in Hollywood!
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS: Projection: 32-36 wins. (12)
My how the mighty have fallen. The Clippers seemed like they were so close with the “Lob City” crew & almost over taking the Lakers for the best ticket in town… those days are long gone now (especially since the Lake Show added LeBron). Patrick Beverly & Avery Bradley make one of the best defensive back courts in the league, adding Tobias Harris (via Detroit last season) & Marcin Gortat are a plus & Luc Mbah a Moute, lou Williams, & Milos Teodosic are a very nice 1-2-3 punch off the bench. In the East i believe their projection would be a legit playoff contender, but wins in the west are more difficult to come by.
PHOENIX SUNS: Projection: 25-29 wins. (14)
Phoenix, they may not win a lot of games but they’ll play fast & fun this year. Devin Booker headlines a group of kids including a pair of 1st-rounders in DeAndre Ayton (1st overall our of Arizona) & Mikal bridges (10th overall out of Nova). They’ve added some veteran leadership with Ryan Anderson & recently (Michigan alum) Jamal Crawford. But in the NBA it takes time for young guys to learn how to win, that’s where the Suns are right now, learning how to win at this level consistently. I think they’re about 3 years away from being a modern Utah or Denver. All good things take time, but this team will be a fun watch!
SACRAMENTO KINGS: Projection: 22-26 wins. (15)
Why do I want to believe in the Kings? I have no idea. Somebody has to be last, & I’m pretty sure the Kings will be it, but the future looks bright. De’Aaron Fox & Buddy Hield in the back, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Zach Randolph, & Willie Cauley-Stein up front make for a nice starting 5. Much like the Clippers, if this team was in the East they could be a real bubble threat for a playoff birth… just not there yet. Marvin Bagley, Justin jackson, Imam Shumpert & Yogi Ferrell off the bench are a really fun combo as well. It’s not all doom & gloom in Sac Town.
HOUSTON ROCKETS: Projection: 56-60 wins. (2)
This team should win 60 games again this year. Chris Paul at the point, James Harden at the 2, & the youngster Clint Capella in the middle makes this team incredibly dangerous to defend. Plus they have very good depth with Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker & Nene off the bench. Maybe James Ennis can provide some of the defense they’ll miss with the loss of Luc Mbah a Moute & Trevor Ariza. Biggest question is Melo. Can this team win with him & his former boss from his Knicks days, Mike D’antoni, or does his inability to be effective on either end of the floor tarnish his reputation?
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS: Projection: 44-48 wins. (8)
New Orleans, is this the year? The Pels won 20 of their last 27 games sans Boogie & with Anthony Davis playing lights-out. Davis can do the same (let’s pray he stays healthy) this season with Jrue Holiday taking over not only the scoring role from last season but also the floor general from Rajon Rondo. Julius Randle should be a much better complimentary fit at the 4 alongside Davis. Is this the year Davis stakes his claim as the most dominant player in the league? They’ll fight for one of the 3 last seeds in the race out West.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Projection: 43-47 wins. (9)
Is this the year the streak is broken for San Antonio? Look, I think that much like last year, spots 3-8 in the West will fluctuate like middle-aged man’s blood pressure. But I can see the Spurs taking a back seat & the playoff streak snapped. Their Big 3 is gone, so is their future with Kawhi Leonard. They dealt him & Danny Green to Toronto in exchange for Demar DeRozen. DeRozen & LaMarcus Aldridge are going to have to play at elite levels every night for this team to have a chance, especially with the loss of Dejounte Murray who is lost to a torn ACL. It’s time for the changing of the guard in the West, the Spurs are no longer elite.
DALLAS MAVERICKS: Projection: 33-37 wins. (11)
God bless Dirk. The jumping german is back for another season & they’ve added one of the most intriguing prospects from last year’s draft in Luka Doncic. I love that Luka gets a Hall-of-Fame foreign mentor to help him in his development, what a great choice by Dallas. Dennis Smith Jr should be able to really make some hay as a secondary scorer & DeAndre Jordan is the man in the middle. Is Harrison Barnes worth all that money? Let’s hope his hammy stays in tact. I think Dallas provides a fun watch for fans all over the country.
MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES: Projection: 26-30 wins. (13)
We’re a long way away from the old “Grind House” that was Memphis. Mike Conley & Marc Gasol make them competitive each night but Chandler Parson’s knees are softer than a roll of Charmin. The Grizz were on the cusp pre-Warriors, but now they’re really stuck on the path of mediocre. Be good or be bad, but don’t be in the middle, which is exactly where Memphis is.
*Anthony Bellino is the host of The Fox Sports Morning Blitz, weekday mornings from 7am-9am on Toledo’s Fox Sports Radio 1230.