Before I start I must admit, I don’t have all the answers. I’ll never have all the answers, and that is something I’m still learning to accept. Ideally, all of the things we’re fighting for are reasonable.
I feel like I say this every year, but the 2019 NBA off-Season may be the wildest off-season in the history of the league. Has there ever been a summer where we’ve seen so many stars move around and make so many different teams legitimate contenders like this? For the first time in years I genuinely have no idea who is going to hoist the Larry O’ Brien trophy at the end of June and as a fan, I’ve never been more excited for a new season to start in my life.
With Anthony Davis joining the Lakers, Russ being sent to Houston, and Kawhi joining forces with PG in LA, the western conference has received the bulk of the shakeup in the league and it’s made predicting the seeding for this year harder than ever. But without further ado, here’s my prediction for the following season in the wild wild west.
Number one seed: Houston Rockets
Watching Russell Westbrook & James Harden on the same team again (This time they’re both in their primes) is going to be FUN. The Rockets were able to snag 53 wins last year and that’s with CP3 only playing in 58 games last season.
They’re going to be a great regular season team for sure, but my concerns with this group is strictly with their postseason performance. Especially considering that both Harden & Russ both have very recent playoff meltdowns on their resume.
Number two seed: Denver Nuggets
The young Nuggets were a pleasant surprise for the league last season finishing as the #2 seed behind Golden State led by their two young stars in Jokic & Murray.
The Nuggets are young and they’re only going to progressively get better. Knocking off Pop & the Spurs was no small feat and going seven games against arguably the best back-court in the league vs CJ/Dame was highly impressive and I expect the Nuggets to continue their ascension that could even result in a WCF berth this year.
Number three seed: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are going to be a DAMN good team this year. This roster won 48 games last season and added two of the best two way players in the league to their roster. The only reason I’m not predicting them to finish higher as a one or two seed is because I’m accounting for PG healing from his shoulder injury and Kawhi undoubtedly sitting out at least 10 games due to load management.
Number four seed: Utah Jazz
The 2nd ranked defense in the league added Mike Conley, one of the most impressive defensive guards of this decade to their roster and also added sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic who shot 42% from the 3pt line last season while also averaging 18 points a night. The Jazz are just as good as any team in the league and if Donovan Mitchell takes that leap (which I fully expect him to do) into being one of the elite two guards in the league this year, Jazz fans could see a title in Utah for the first time in team history.
Number five seed: Golden State Warriors
I would have the Warriors higher on this list but missing Klay Thompson for most of the season, if not all of the season is going to be a huge hit for them. For the first time in years I expect this team to struggle on the defensive end of the ball. Steph’s struggles are well documented at this point and D’Lo was one of the worst defensive guards in the league last season. Nonetheless when Klay makes his return I expect them to turn the corner and make an appearance in the conference finals no matter their seeding.
Number six seed: Los Angeles Lakers
Like the Warriors, I have the Lakers listed as a lower seed but behind Lebron & AD I could very well see this team making run into the conference finals. The Demarcus Cousins injury just makes their depth at the 4 and 5 spots…. yeah. If Boogie were healthy and ready to go it would likely be another story but with him going down I just don’t foresee a scenario where they finish higher than a four seed at the very max.
Number seven seed: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are probably the most slept on team in the league. I’m not sure if just because of their quiet nature or people dismissing them because they’re led by Demar Derozan but the Spurs have a damn good roster with arguably the best collection of guards in the league. With a healthy Murray back along with young studs like White, Johnson, and Lonnie Walker don’t be surprised if the Spurs upset one of the higher seeds on this list.
Number eight seed: Portland Trailblazers
I know having the Blazers finish this low may be an eyebrow raiser for most people but keep in mind that I think that the first and eight seed in the west will finish no more than 8-10 games apart from each other. Just as the spurs have the best collection of guards of any team in the west, the Blazers arguably have the best collection of big men in the west with the addition of veteran rim protector Hassan Whiteside.
Russell Westbrook is one of the most electrifying players I’ve ever seen pick up a basketball. His intensity, out of this world athleticism, and sheer brute strength is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from a point guard. Russ has already earned his place among the ten greatest point guards ever, and it is for that reason that we cannot allow another potential first round exit to slide so easily.
Last year I wrote an article on the ten greatest point guards ever and I put Russ at the number nine spot on that list. As a MVP winner, multiple All-NBA team member, and perennial all-star he deserved that spot but I couldn’t put him higher for the simple fact that I haven’t seen him do more as the number one option on his own team. Not only has he not lead his team to enough, but as a superstar MVP caliber player I would go as far as to say he has underachieved as well.
Let’s just compare Russ to a few of his contemporaries that I had on the list, I’ll be fair I wont even use the multiple time champions like Magic, Zeke, Curry, etc. Steve Nash never won a championship in his career but he had enough impact on his team to where you can still give him all the respect in the world cause he at least led them to something. Nash led the Suns to multiple 50 win seasons, two 60 win seasons, and three conference finals appearances.
Lets look at Jason Kidd. Jason Kidd won a championship as a older veteran player for the Mavericks in 2011 but that’s not whats important here. Kidd led the Nets to back to back finals appearances and granted they loss but again, he led them to something.
My point here is that Russ hasn’t led the Thunder to anything. In 2015 when KD missed the entire season due to injury Russ and the Thunder missed the playoffs despite Russ playing most of the season and since KD left to Golden State three years ago the Thunder have lost in the first round two years in a row, haven’t won 50 games yet despite having a MVP, two all defensive first team players, Steven Adams, and now (I’m not panicking yet) are down in this series against the Blazers.
I’m a fair NBA fan, I’m not hyper critical of guys who haven’t won a championship and that isn’t the end all be all for me. What I tend to pay attention to (And I hold Russ to a higher standard than this) is can you at least get your team to the playoffs consistently? Can you get your team out of the first round consistently? Can you lead them to at least one conference finals?
That is to me why Russ’s legacy is on the line. I’ve never been hyper critical of his triple-doubles cause I’ve always felt his triple doubles were vital to the success of the Thunder. I’ve only ever been critical of Russ and how he plays with other stars, especially stars who are better than him. And Russ deserves all the credit in the world for how he has played this season. He’s deferred to PG for most of the season and it shows as the Thunder were better (until PG’s shoulder injury) this season than last year, and he’s been excellent on the defensive end for the first time in years.
I’m not giving up on the Thunder just yet in this post-season. I believe they’re going to win this series and I’ve even gone as far as to pick them to go to the conference finals. But Russ has to lead this team out of the first round at least and he should be able to lead this team to the conference finals. They’re a better group than both of their potential opponents in the semi finals (Spurs/Nuggets).
Russell Westbrook is a top ten all time player, a MVP winner, and his career stat line will be among the 30 greatest career stat lines ever… and it is for that reason that he can’t lose this series, it is for that reason that he must lead this team to the conference finals. Every single player of his caliber has been able to lead a team to the conference finals at least and there should be no excuse for a player who is now 30 years old and still in the prime of his career.
After leading the Cavs to a game 7 victory over the Golden State Warriors in 2016, LeBron James owned the basketball world. He captured his 3rd championship, his 3rd finals MVP, and he (with the help of Kyrie) ended Cleveland’s 52-year drought without a professional sports championship.
Establishing the order of this list was harder than any other position ranked list I’ve ever done. You could make a legitimate case for at least five of the players on this list taking the number one spot and each were so similar in skill that I almost felt bad putting one over the other.