Sunday, August 12, 2012

2012-13 Western Conference Predictions

Tier 8
15. Houston
Leslie Alexander and Daryl Morey have committed the Rockets to a season of rebuilding by trading Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, Marcus Camby, and Samuel Dalembert, not resigning Goran Dragic, amnestying Luis Scola, and placing Kevin Martin on the trade block. The Rockets now have a plethora of young, promising players. The Rockets may also have up to three first round picks next season depending on how they, Dallas, and Toronto finish. The question now is how many of these young players will reach their potential. Currently the Rockets have 20 players under contract according to RealGM and 22 player according to HoopsHype. While the Rockets will looking to trade Kevin Martin and cut their roster to 15 players, it is important to note that the Rockets will need to stay above the cap floor of $49 million.

Tier 7
14. Sacramento
I'm very excited to see this young Sacramento team. Thomas Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins should be a great duo on the low post. Both are strong players who can dominate the block and wear out opponents. The addition of Robinson permits Jason Thompson to play more of a bench role which better suits his skill set. The Kings also have a promising set of guards including Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, and Isiah Thomas. Expect Fredette, Thornton, and Evans to share the bulk of the minutes. This is going to be another developmental year for the Kings, but if they can keep this core group together then there will be many competitive years in the future.

13. New Orleans
I think Eric Gordon is one of the best guards in the league. Gordon played only 9 games last season; however, in that time, he averaged the third most points of all shooting guards in the NBA (behind only Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade). The Hornets also made a handful of moves to revamp their roster; this started with drafting Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, then trading for Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez (both via sign-and-trade), and signing Roger Mason. Rivers and Gordon should be a commanding backcourt duo. Rivers is an excellent playmaker, and, as stated before, Gordon is an excellent scorer. Anthony Davis absolutely dominated college basketball last season. Most likely, he will not be as dominant in the NBA; however, expect him to be very productive in the paint early on. Lastly, acquiring Lopez and Anderson add two interesting dimensions to their offense. Lopez is a high energy player who will tire out opponents and Anderson is a big who can shoot well from the perimeter which stretches defenses out to create lanes. This Hornets roster is built for screens with so many high energy players who are good in the lane and from three point territory.

Tier 6
12. Minnesota
Many expect the Timberwolves to contend for a playoff spot this season. With a core of Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, the T-Wolves are definitely headed in the right direction; however, I do not think they are ready to contend for a playoff spot just yet. While signing Brandon Roy seems like a great addition, it is difficult to expect the Brandon Roy of 08-09. I wouldn't be surprised if Alexey Shved turned out to be the most productive signing of the offseason; Shved played very well during the group stage of the Olympics. New addition Andrei Kirilenko also played an exceptional Olympics. Hopefully for Minnesota, both players' successes can carry into the NBA season.

11. Portland
The Blazers organization has been absolutely stunted by injuries. If Brandon Roy and Greg Oden had remained healthy. And if their careers continued to progress in the direction that many anticipated that they would. Then the Trailblazers would have been competing for a top four spot in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, the ifs fell through; however, Portland has continued to build around LaMarcus Aldridge and has built well. The Blazers stole Wes Matthews from Utah after a surprising rookie season. Matthews has continued to impress in Portland on both ends of the court. Claiming J.J. Hickson off the waiver wire turned out to be another beneficial. Portland has rebuilt it's backcourt through the draft in recent year: first with Elliot Williams in 2010, then with Nolan Smith in 2011, and now with Damian Lillard in 2012. With Nicolas Batum signed to a long term deal, whoever is playing point for the Blazers will have many options.

Tier 5
10. Utah
There is a lot of talent in Utah's frontcourt. Al Jefferson is an elite center now, and Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are two of the most promising; however, Favors and Kanter still have some developing to do. Paul Millsap has been proven to be one of those rare second round steals. The Jazz have also acquiring Marvin Williams from Atlanta providing even more depth; thus, it will be interesting to see who Tyrone Corbin plays in the last four minutes of a close game. I expect Millsap, Jefferson, and 2010 first round pick Gordon Hayward to be locks; however, it will be interesting to see if Corbin goes big and plays Williams at the three, sliding Hayward to the two. Or if Corbin plays 2011 first round pick Alec Burks at the two which would leave Hayward at the three. The Jazz have also added Mo Williams this offseason giving the Jazz three viable point guards at the time.

9. Golden State
The Warriors have done an excellent job acquiring the right players to fit into Golden State's fast paced system. The system requires high energy players and a deep bench. This is a squad that can play ten deep with almost no talent drop off between starters and bench players. The challenge will be managing minutes so that each player can remain in the rhythm of an NBA season. This is going to be an exciting year for Golden State basketball. The atmosphere in the Oracle during a close high-scoring game is one of the most energetic in the NBA.

8. Phoenix
Picking Phoenix to finish eighth in the Western Conference is probably my biggest reach prediction. It's ambitious considering the Suns lost their franchise player; however, I think the Suns have found a new franchise point guard in Kendall Marshall. Marshall did an excellent job of handling UNC's offense last season up until he injured his wrist in the NCAA tournament. A starting rotation of Marshall, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, and Marcin Gortat fits well together. The unit consists of very good playmakers in that each player tries to create the best opportunity as opposed to approaching a play with a fixated plan. It is also defensively sound. I also like the depth that the Suns have with Shannon Brown, Markieff Morris, Channing Frye, and now Wesley Johnson and Michael Beasley. Most of these players are also capable of playing two or three positions, so the Suns will rarely be vulnerable to mismatches.

Tier 4
7. Dallas
The Mavericks have put together a competitive roster for the season after losing out on Deron Williams and Dwight Howard. Adding guards Darren Collison and OJ Mayo should add some explosiveness to the Dallas offense while adding veteran big men Elton Brand and Chris Kaman should provide frontcourt stability. Management has done a great job of assembling a competitive roster while creating cap space to be able to entice free agents next offseason.

Tier 3
6. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers committed to adding veteran depth this offseason. LAC signed Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Ryan Hollins, and Ronny Turiaf. The Clips also traded for Lamar Odom and resigned Chauncey Billups who is recovering from surgery on his left Achilles tendon. I like the Jamal Crawford signing as he is a proven playmaker, scorer, and finisher; however, I do not think the Clippers made an acquisitions that will keep the Clippers up with the Lakers or the Thunder.

5. Memphis
The most significant roster move for the Grizzles this summer was replacing OJ Mayo with Wayne Ellington. While Mayo maybe a better overall player than Ellington, Ellington is a better fit for the Memphis rotation. Ellington is a better shooter and his style of play doesn't require him to have the ball to create for himself; he is more ideal for the wing role that the Grizzles need from the two spot. Without any other significant changes to its roster, it is fair to expect Memphis to perform at the level it did last year.

4. Denver
Good News! My children's extra large Carmelo Anthony Jersey still fits me. Even better news: the Nuggets acquired Andre Iguodala. Denver did give up Aaron Afflalo and Al Harrington, but I think the organization believes that April 2012 Rookie of the Month Kenneth Faried can be a starting power forward in the NBA; I haven't seen Faried play, but he had a statistically impressive month last April. With Danilo Gallinari playing the three, Iguodala will be a mismatch for many teams at the two. In a quasi-acquisition, the Nuggets will also have Wilson Chandler for the entire season which adds 30 minutes of starter capability to their bench. Also, Timofey Mozgov has looked very impressive in the Olympics; Mozgov averaged just under 12 points per game in group play and played a significant role in leading Russia to a bronze medal. The most intriguing aspect of Denver is how good defensively the squad is.

Tier 2
3. San Antonio
The Spurs have maintained the most roster stability this offseason. The Spurs did not lose anyone to free agency (or retirement), and the only addition has been bringing in 2009 second round pick Nando de Colo from the French league. The Spurs are shopping DeJuan Blair around; however, it is difficult to gauge what the Spurs can get in return considering Blair's knee problems. 

Tier 1
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Mitch Kupchak did an excellent job of revamping the Lakers' roster in order to keep up with the Thunder. It started with completing a sign-and-trade for Steve Nash, then signing veteran forward Antwan Jamison (who averaged over 17 points points per game last season with the Cavs) and young guard Jodie Meeks, and finally trading for Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, and Chris Duhon. Kupchak improved almost every aspect of the Lakers' roster this offseason showing that he is not ready to go into rebuilding mode just yet.

1. Oklahoma City
This is going to be a critical year for the Thunder as James Harden and Serge Ibaka will be restricted free agents at the end of the NBA season; the Thunder will have to decide if they are willing to go over the luxary tax line in order to keep this promising group together.Regardless of next year, OKC should be the favorite to win the Western Conference Finals this season. The team also improved their frontcourt by drafting Perry Jones III and signing Hasheem Thabeet and Daniel Orton. The Thunder chose to acquire discounted young players as opposed to costlier veterans. Jones, Thabeet, and Orton certaintly have the size to compete with other power forwards and centers in the Western Conference; however, OKC will be vulnerable to the mistakes that young players make over experienced veterans.

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