2018-19 NBA Preview Series Western Conference

Our 2018-19 NBA preview series is underway and we are onto the Western Conference.  If you didn’t catch the Eastern Conference installment, be sure to check it out.  We’re going to predict the final standings in the conference while taking a look at each team and making a guess against everyone’s Vegas win total.  So let’s get to the 2018-19 NBA preview series with the Western conference.

1. Golden State Warriors – O/U 62 – Under

Last year I made the mistake of thinking the Warriors, based on how star studded they are, would accidentally find themselves in the 70 win range.  I didn’t account nearly enough for potential injuries and the fact that these guys do not give a shit about the regular season.

Not making that mistake twice.  While I think due to Houston’s (overblown) step backwards and their own injury risks (CP3) Golden State will end up with the one seed this year, but the under on 62 is obvious to me given injury risks and the afore mentioned lack of giving a shit about the regular season.


2. Houston Rockets – O/U 57 – Over

The Rockets won 65 games last year while posting the point differential of a 61 win team.  In order to hit the under Houston has to win 56 games or less, so did they get 9 wins, but really 5 wins, worse from last year?

I don’t believe so.  When the team let Ariza walk and then didn’t make sure LMM stuck around I was as concerned as the next guy.  I’m as skeptical of how this Melo fit is going to work out as much as the next guy.  But the addition of James Ennis is really flying under the radar, so the only material change we have is swapping out Ariza and LMM for Melo and Ennis.

That change could very easily tank this defense, which was 7th in defensive rating last season and a huge reason the Rockets were true championship contenders.  But Ennis should be a decent enough facsimile as a 3-and-D wing player to Ariza and LMM that the only real concern is Carmelo.  That, however, is a real concern.

The Ryan Anderson subtraction will also be a negative for the regular season, and CP3 can’t be counted on to play 75+ games.  The under on 57 seems rather likely.

But MDA has never shown a habit for resting starters, and I think Houston will care about the 1 seed.  There are also only two teams in the league that have two top 9 players on their roster, one being Golden State, the other being Houston.  That gets you a long ways, especially with the amount of supporting talent Harden and Paul have.

3. Utah Jazz – O/U 50 – Over

This was talked about last year as in 2016-17 the Heat went 11-30 before ripping off a 30-11 record to close out the season.  Much hype surrounded the team as it is human nature to assume the back half of that stretch is more indicative of the true talent level of the team.  Yet in situations similar to the ’16-17 Heat, the best indicator of how the team will perform the following season is the overall season before hand, not one of the two extremes.

Last year Utah went 29-6 to close the season, which you probably know.  Their net rating during that time was 11.7, which would have ranked 1st in the league last season.  But it’s not just that it would have ranked first, it would have blown Houston’s league leading mark of 8.4 out of the water.  Last season the Celtics were 7th in net rating with a 3.6 mark.  The 29-6 Jazz were basically the Boston Celtics better than the Rockets.

Their defensive rating during the streak was 98.5, which would have obliterated their own league leading mark of 102.9 from a year ago.

So with that as our last regular season memory of Utah and the emergence of Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz are getting a lot of hype entering this season, but the Heat should act as a cautionary tale.  Utah won 48 games last year with a point differential of 4.3.  If we’re going to caution against assuming linear progression from Tatum, we should do the same for Mitchell.

Look, this team is talented and exceptionally well coached.  I’m taking them to hit the over on 50 wins.  If CP3 gets hurt and/or Houston’s defense takes a major step back, Utah should find themselves as the two seed in the West.  I’m just not ready to predict them to be the two seed or find them a lock to be a 55+ win team.  That isn’t a slight by the way.  It’s hard to win 55+ games in the NBA.

4. Denver Nuggets – O/U 47.5 – Over

I drank the Nuggets Kool-Aid last year and was thwarted due to a Millsap injury and a terrible defense.  Millsap is healthy, but we still don’t have much evidence to truly believe this defense can be in the top half of the league (it probably won’t be).

But, my god, the offensive fireworks this team is going to put on during the regular season.  How many starting lineups will be higher scoring than the Murray-Harris-Barton-Millsap-Jokic grouping?  I’m expecting big things from Jamal Murray this year, and he is a leading contender for the Most Improved award.  Can a full season of Millsap get this defense into the top 18?  They ranked 23rd last year, so 18th isn’t a stretch, and if they can get to that level of adequacy they should push for 50 wins.

5. Los Angeles Lakers – O/U 47.5 – Under

This is equal parts me not trusting OKC/NOP/MIN/POR as much as it is about the Lakers. This over/under gave me a headache, and a lot has to go right for Los Angeles to get the five seed, but I somehow have more faith in LeBron and a bunch of young players progressing than I do in the other Western playoff contenders.

I don’t know how hard LeBron is going to try during the regular season.  He tends to not try until about the last five minutes of the game, and that’s when he is on a title contender.  He isn’t on a title contender.  But what his presence is going to do for everyone else’s development cannot be overstated.

I’m no pioneer in saying this, but Brandon Ingram is about to take a massive step forward.  For those complaining about the lack of shooting around LeBron, Ingram, KCP, Hart, and Kuzma will shoot well enough on all the spot up looks they’re about to receive from LeBron and Rondo manipulating defenses.

I’m not worried about the offense at all actually, I’m concerned about the defense.  They don’t have a rim protector, and their best lineups would feature LeBron at the five, which he hates doing.  Will Luke Walton ever play Hart and KCP, the two best 3-and-D guys they have, at the same time?

I don’t know how the defense will shake out, but here is what I do know: LeBron is the best player on the planet when he feels like trying, Ingram is about to explode, Josh Hart is genuinely just good at basketball, Kuzma is a microwave scorer, this might be the best passing team in the league, and I expect some buyout contributor to end up on the roster.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder – O/U 48.5 – Under

Out of the Thunder/Wolves/Blazers/Pelicans none of them feel right.  The Thunder are almost here by default.  Andre Roberson is out until at least December after a setback.  It’s three days before opening night and Russell Westbrook still hasn’t been cleared for full contact.

But the Thunder are still the best bet out of the four options.  When healthy, OKC can run out Westbrook, Roberson, Paul George, Jerami Grant, and Steven Adams.  No one else in this grouping has a five man unit as good as that.  The Thunder won 48 games last season, mostly without Roberson, but with a point differential of 3.4, which is indicative of a 50 win team.  They could easily end up the 4 seed, but the unknown return dates of Westbrook and Roberson give me hesitation.

7. New Orleans Pelicans – O/U 45.5 – Under

New Orleans won 48 games last year while posting a 1.3 average point differential, which is in line with a 44 win team.  I don’t think the loss of Cousin’s really matters, as New Orleans had the 6th best defense in the league after Boogie went down.  I know I just cautioned against using second half data to predict the entire next season, but there is a material change we can point to for why this could have happened.  Rondo’s porous defense isn’t talked about enough either, and he is also gone.

I love the big man trio of Davis, Mirotic, and Randle, but the Pelicans are still lacking on the wing and the point guard play is a question mark.  Sure, New Orleans could hit this over since they out performed their point differential last year and have Anthony Davis, but it doesn’t seem like the smart bet.

8. Portland Trailblazers – O/U 42 – Over

If you’re going to make the playoffs in the West you’re going to need to win more than 42 games, so, the over has to be the pick.

If you have Lillard, McCollum, and Nurkic you have a pretty solid floor.  Last year Portland gravely out performed their point differential, winning 49 games with an average margin of 2.6.  Regression should hit, especially with questions on the wing remaining and a downgrade at the backup point guard spot from Shabazz Napier to Seth Curry.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves – O/U 41.5 – Over

If they trade Butler this is going to get ugly real quick.  For now he is on the roster, but even still this just has locker room implosion written all over it given how Butler unceremoniously made his return to practice this week.  How long is it before the team is completely divided and Glen Taylor steps in to demand Butler is traded immediately?

10. San Antonio Spurs – O/U 43.5 – Under

I was all set to be the guy that put the Spurs in the playoffs and said you would be crazy to bet against them, but due to the recent injuries to Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, I just can’t do it anymore.  This team has just lost too much for me to confidently predict they make the playoffs in the West.

The argument that the Spurs are essentially just adding DeRozan to a roster that won 47 games last season is intellectually dishonest.  Kyle Anderson, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, and Tony Parker (though he played just 21 games) are no longer on the team.  For the first time in lord knows how long the Spurs defense is a real question mark.

It’s not going to surprise me when the Spurs grind their way to 45 wins and the 7 seed, but given what we know now I just can’t tell you it’s going to happen.

11. Memphis Grizzlies – O/U 33.5 – Over

Just throw out last season.  I’m not saying that at their respective ages that Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are the same players from two years ago, but healthy the duo still gives this team a certain floor that I think is being overlooked.

For the first time in literally forever the Grizzlies actually have some wing players that are intriguing.  One of Dillon Brooks, MarShon Brooks, and Wayne Seldon will surprise people.  Garrett Temple was everyone’s favorite “OH MY GOD A CONTENDER NEEDS TO RESCUE TEMPLE FROM THE KINGS RIGHT NOW” darling last season but it’s almost as if because he landed in Memphis all of that is just canceled.   Well, guess what, Garrett Temple is not canceled.

Kyle Anderson, whether or not you like the contract, was a nice addition to the team.  Look for both JaMychal Green and Omri Casspi to have bounce back seasons.  Rookies don’t tend to contribute to winning basketball but for what it’s worth JJJ was everyone draft nerd’s obsession this summer (yours truly included).

Memphis would make the playoffs in the East.  Yea, I said it.

Oh, by the way, Memphis owes Boston a first round pick and the protections are as follows: 2019 top 8; 2020 top 6, 2021 unprotected.  It makes more sense for Memphis to just bite the bullet as soon as possible, instead of risking coughing up a better pick later down the road.  I’ve also heard that inside the organization they agree with this assessment.  Point being, Memphis will be trying to win games for the entire season, where as the teams below them have at least some incentive to tank at some point.

12. Los Angeles Clippers – O/U 37.5 – Under

I really appreciate how Doc kept this team in the playoff hunt for as long as he did last year despite all the injuries, but I can’t be too optimistic about the Clippers this season.  They are loaded with quality NBA rotation players and could very well go over this number, but there are too many things that could go wrong.

Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley are both coming off injuries, and those two, along with Tobias Harris, are all functionally in the last year of their contract (Bradley has a mostly non-guaranteed 2019-2020 season).  What are the odds one, two, or three of them are traded during the season?

What are the odds Gallo gets hurt? High.  What are the odds the Clippers embrace the tank? Also high.

Los Angeles owes it’s first round pick to Boston (seriously, stop trading with Danny Ainge, people), but it is lottery protected.  The Clippers are looking to be big players in 2019 free agency, so they will most likely view this as their last chance to cash in on a high draft pick.

13. Dallas Mavericks – O/U 35.5 – Under

Dallas won 24 games last season, but their negative 3 average margin is in line with a 32 win team.  There is a lot to be excited about in Dallas, especially looking at 2019 and beyond, but I don’t know that this team got 4 wins better from last year.

Doncic will be awesome, but rookies don’t normally contribute to winning basketball.  DJ is not the same force he once was.

The Mavs have no incentive to tank, since the pick they owe Atlanta is top five protected and Dallas is just too good to end up that bad, but I’d still say the smart bet is on the under.

14. Phoenix Suns – O/U 29 – Under

Prediction: Trevor Ariza doesn’t finish the year on this roster.

Bold Prediction: Trevor Ariza ends up on the Lakers

15. Sacramento Kings – O/U 26 – Under

Your 2018-19 Sacramento Kings summed up in one sentence, courtesy of Kevin Pelton: “Sacramento is the only team without a single player projected better than league average by RPM.”

filed under: NBA

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