I’ve already done the Eastern Conference, you can check that out here: https://samuelchristophersmith.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/2013-2014-nba-season-preview/
Now it is time to check out the other side of the league. Here are my Western Conference picks for 2013-14. Once again, I will be counting down.
8. New Orleans Pelicans
The loss of Greivis Vasquez is significant, as he was one of their playmakers the last couple of years. But the additions of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans should more than make up for it. They are both combo guards that can score in bunches and facilitate, and with Eric Gordon, they have a nice three way back court. Whether or not Gordon will stay in New Orleans for the stretch run is a big question, as he has been trade bait for a while now. The development of Anthony Davis into one of the league’s premier big men will be an interesting follow all year, and their playoff hopes count on it. The big question with the Hornets is at the center position, since Jason Smith is a solid scorer but a poor rebounder. Also expect very little production out of Al-Farouq Aminu. Even so, they have the potential to be an exciting young team.
7. Portland Trail Blazers
All five of their expected starters averaged in double figures a year ago. Lillard has the potential to be an elite scorer after being unanimous rookie of the year last season. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum can score a lot, and should benefit from a longer leash for their second year phenom. Same goes for their star, LeMarcus Aldridge. Robin Lopez may not be able to score at the clip his brother Brook can, but Portland is in need of a rim protector, and Lopez fills that role very well. He is high energy and a good rebounder, and gives Portland a complete starting five. With young guys like Meyers Leonard and Thomas Robinson have not produced much yet, but they will likely see more playing time with Portland’s shallow bench. As a whole, Portland could surprise and be a top six team, but their lack of depth is a possible problem.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
Last May, everyone looked at Memphis as the team to dethrone the Heat. They had the twin towers that would bang the inside and make Chris Bosh play big. Of course, they could not even take a game against San Antonio in the conference finals, so now no one is quite as high on them. They are still a playoff team in my book since they have the second best center in the game in Marc Gasol, a dominant rebounder in Zach Randolph, and a good point guard in Mike Conley. Tayshaun Prince is getting old and Tony Allen does not contribute much offensively, but defensively, this team is probably the best in the Western Conference. This will be a key since they do not really have one dynamic scorer, more like scoring by committee. Mike Miller off the bench will be essential because outside of him, they have no real shooters, except maybe Conley. Assuming their defense remains dominant, they are a playoff team.
5. Houston Rockets
I believe that as it stands now, this team is overrated. Their star is, in my humble opinion, the most overrated player in the NBA today. James Harden can score, no doubt about it. He cannot score like Kevin Durant and his scoring rarely allows his teammates to benefit. He is not a great defender or rebounder or passer, so he is one-dimensional. To say he is a top-five player in the league right now is foolish. I believe that he is top ten, but number nine or ten, no higher. Their big acquisition, Dwight Howard, is a dominant defensive player and a dominant rebounder. He is far from a dominant scorer. He should be Shaquille O’Neal, but his offensive game has not developed at all in the last five years. With that in mind, his strength inside still gets him fifteen to twenty a night, so I have to say he is a top ten player in the NBA. That gives them two top ten players on their team, and a supporting cast that does not get enough credit. Jeremy Lin is not Linsanity anymore, but he has showed that he is a nice compliment to a great scorer. Chandler Parsons is, in my mind, the most underrated player in the game. He can jump, he can shoot, he can score, he can defend, I love everything about him. Houston’s question is at the power forward spot, where they are more than likely going to start second year man Terrence Jones, who was in the D-League most of the season. As a whole, I like the Rockets, but I feel like I know what they are going to be. I see the four teams ahead of them as potential Finals contenders, and I am not totally convinced that Houston will be that this year.
4. Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry is one of the league’s hottest stars right now, and for good reason. He may be the best pure shooter in the league’s history, and as much as anyone, he has the ability to explode for fifty or sixty. His fellow Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, is almost equally as explosive a shooter. They have a very strong front court in David Lee, Andrew Bogut, and new acquisition Andre Iguodala, so top to bottom I love this starting five. Losing Jarrett Jack will have a large impact, but I believe Harrison Barnes will more than fill the sixth man scoring role and is a superstar in the making. Overall, I love this team and think they are absolutely a title contender, but since they do rely on shooting much of the time, they will have their off nights and that makes them a four seed.
3. San Antonio Spurs
Defending Western Conference champs, this team will never surprise us. They have a top five point guard, a top five center, one of the league’s rising young stars in Kawhi Leonard, and a solid supporting cast. The only potentially significant change they made was adding Marco Bellinelli, who proved to be a versatile scorer for the Bulls a year ago. They are a three seed because eventually age has to be a factor I figure, but they also have Pop as their coach and Parker and Duncan as their stars, so they are contenders for like the twentieth straight year.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
This team shows what a great point guard can do for a team. Overall, I think Blake Griffin is overrated. He can score in traffic better than anyone not named LeBron and is a pretty damn efficient rebounder, but defensively he is nothing special and he has yet to add a jump shot to his repertoire. But this team is a top contender because of Chris Paul. He is the best point guard in the game and a top three player overall. He facilitates like no one else, he is a lights-out shooter, can score in the paint, is an outstanding on ball defender, and all while being undersized at six feet tall. He makes Blake a dominant player, Deandre Jordan a highlight reel, and will probably allow JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford to have great seasons shooting the ball. The addition of Jared Dudley from Phoenix gives the Clips a solid starter at the three spot which they did not really have a year ago with a broken down Caron Butler. Oh yeah. Doc Rivers is also their coach now. That being said, this is a team that I view as a contender for sure, but I see them as more of a regular season great team than a postseason great team. I believe the Spurs and the Thunder are greater threats in the West.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
This is the only team in the league with two of the league’s top five players. Yes, Westbrook is hurt right now, but once he returns, I expect to see a similar situation to Derrick Rose’s where he proves from the gate that he is back to being a dominant player. Outside of their stars, the team does not look great. They are solid up front with Ibaka and Perkins, and Sefolosha is a lock down defender, but their offense will almost always come from Kevin Durant and Westbrook. Jeremy Lamb is young, but looks to be a strong contributor this year, and will be essential to OKC’s run to another top seed. The issue for this team will be getting over the hump of the Westbrook injury, which looks like it will last four to six weeks, but beyond that, I think the Thunder are the top team in the West. They are not the most complete team, but as we always see, biology always wins over chemistry. Star power beats out all in the NBA, and no other team in the West has it quite like OKC.
Western Conference Finals
Oklahoma City vs. San Antonio
Oklahoma City wins in six games
Rookie of the Year: Victor Oladipo
Obvious pick for now since no other rookie is being given the opportunities Oladipo is getting, since Orlando kind of stinks. I also see him as the most NBA ready rookie right now, a potential Dwyane Wade clone without quite the explosiveness and a little better defensively.
Sixth Man of the Year: Tyreke Evans
There is a possibility that Eric Gordon will be traded and push Evans into a starting role, but Evans is probably the best player in the NBA right now who does not start. I think he will get the edge over Harrison Barnes because he is right now a more versatile scorer, but it is close between the two.
Defensive Player of the Year: LeBron James
People keep finding ways to not give him this award, just like they did every year with Michael Jordan post-1988. He can guard every position well and is the league’s top athlete, so please, writers. I don’t like it any more than you do (see previous post about my Bulls loyalty. I need Joakim Noah to win this award some day), but just suck it up and give it to him.
Coach of the Year: Mike Brown
Back where he belongs: with a Cleveland team that has a big name star and not a ton else. He will win coach of the year because Cleveland should be a playoff team, but since they stunk last year, he will get attention. Really, the best coach will be Doc Rivers, but the Clippers have been good for a few years now.
MVP: Derrick Rose
This will happen for the exact same reason it happened three years ago. The Bulls will have the league’s best record, Derrick will go 26 and 8, and people will not want to give LeBron number five just yet, since that will tie him with Michael. Will Rose be the league’s best player this year? Of course not. I’m not even saying he will be the most valuable. But he will win the award.
Oh, I realized I forgot to tell you who I have winning it all this year. In a seven game series between the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder, I believe the Bulls will win in seven games.
NBA Champion: Chicago Bulls
Let’s get psyched for another great NBA season! Should be a good one.
I swear I did this objectively.