2019 Western Conference Playoffs predictions

 

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.

 

russell westbrook rockets

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.

denver nuggets

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.

kawhi-paul

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.

utah jazz

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.

Golden State Warriors v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Three

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.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers-Press Conference

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.

spurs lol

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.

trailblazers

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.

 

 

 

Russ’s legacy is on the line, and it needs to be discussed

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.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Golden State Warriors - Game One

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?

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks

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.

LeBron and his failed feat of chasing the “ghost” of Chicago

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.

Continue reading “LeBron and his failed feat of chasing the “ghost” of Chicago”

Greatest Power Forwards in NBA History

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.

Continue reading “Greatest Power Forwards in NBA History”

Greatest Small Forwards in NBA History

The small forward position has featured some of the highest flying players in NBA history. From sky walkers like the Human Highlight Reel, to machines like Lebron, to something we’ve never seen before in Kevin Durant. Here’s my list of the greatest small forwards to ever touch the hardwood floor.

 

james worthy

10. James Worthy

Career Stats: 17.6 PPG 5.1 REB 3.0 AST

Accomplishments: 3x Champ 1x Finals MVP 7x All-Star 2x All-NBA

Big Game James. One of the most clutch players in the history of basketball. A high flying forward whose game shined the brightest on the biggest stages. During the 88′ Finals with the Lakers down 3-2 against the Pistons, James delivered the most impressive performances of his career. Dropping 28 and 9 in game 6 and following that performance up with 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assist in the title clenching game 7 which earned him Finals MVP honors.

dominique

9. Dominique Wilkins

Career Stats: 24.8 PPG 6.7 REB 2.5 AST

Accomplishments: 9x All-Star 7x All-NBA 1x Scoring Champ

The Human Highlight Reel is the greatest dunker of all time, apologies to Michael and Vince but Dominique was flashier than MJ and was doing dunks far ahead of his time in regards to Vince. The Hawks never surrounded Dominique with adequate talent sufficient enough to bring a title to the A but regardless the Georgia legend deserves his place among the greatest small forwards ever.

paul pierce

8. Paul Pierce

Career Stats: 19.7 PPG 5.6 REB 3.5 AST

Accomplishments: 1x Champ 1x Finals MVP 4x All-NBA 10x All-Star

Paul Pierce likely would’ve been the eastern conference version of Carmelo if Ray and KG didn’t come to Boston. That’s not exactly an insult either but i say that to make the point that Pierce’s ring and finals MVP is probably the most legacy turning finals mvp/ring combo for any player on this list.

rick_barry_drive

7. Rick Barry

Career Stats: 24.8 PPG 6.7 REB 4.9 AST

Accomplishments: 1x Champ 1x Finals MVP 1x ABA Champion 8x All-Star 6x-All NBA

It’s debatable that Rick Barry is the most underrated superstar in the history of basketball. When you talk about offensive juggernauts you rarely hear his name mentioned even though it should be far more than it is. An excellent perimeter player who could find a shot anywhere he wanted to on the floor. Rick also led the league in scoring in 1967 averaging the most PPG ever by someone not named Wilt or Michael by averaging 35.8 PPG that season.

Elgin_Baylor

6. Elgin Baylor

Career Stats: 27.4 PPG 13.5 REB 4.3 AST

Accomplishments: 11x All-Star 10x All-NBA Rookie of the Year

One of the original high flyers Elgin Baylor led the early Lakers teams during a time period where they will still very much so in the shadow of the Russell led Celtics. Sure, you could make an argument that his numbers are inflated due to the era he played in being the beginning of basketball but regardless, he was dominant for the time period he played in and deserves respect for how great he was during his specific era.

scottie

5. Scottie Pippen

Career Stats: 16.1 PPG 6.4 REB 5.2 AST

Accomplishments: 6x Champion 7x All-Star 7x All-NBA 10x All-Defense 1x STL Leader

Scottie Pippen in my estimation is the greatest perimeter defender in the history of basketball. He will forever be viewed as Michael’s sidekick but that is perhaps extremely unfair to a man who led the Bulls to a 55 win season the season after Michael Jordan retired (the first time) and was one game away from the conference finals. MJ wouldn’t have enjoyed the success he did if it weren’t for Scottie and the Bulls should forever be grateful they swindled him away from the Seattle Supersonics.

dr j

4. Julius Erving 

Career Stats: 24.2 PPG 8.5 REB 4.2 AST

Accomplishments: 3x Champ 16x All-Star 7x All-NBA 4x MVP 

The man with the coolest nickname in all of sports, Dr. J was simply a magician. Long and Tall, Erving could glide the length of the court with no more than just three steps and dunk on every defender standing in his way in the paint. As the years have passed people view Dr J more in the realm of dunking and not how sensational of an all-around player he was. He was an incredible rebounder for his position and his easily the greatest ABA player there ever was.

Kevin Durant

3. Kevin Durant

Career Stats: 27.1 PPG 7.1 REB 3.9 AST

Accomplishments: 9x All-Star 4x Scoring Champ 1x MVP

Kevin Durant is the most unique basketball player I have ever laid eyes on. He’s the size of a center yet he can move with the ball like a guard and can shoot from anywhere on the floor like a shooting guard, he’s literally a unicorn. I view him as second greatest scorer ever second to only Michael Jordan, and by the end of his career I will not be surprised one bit to see him sit atop the all time scoring list ahead of everyone. 

larry bird

2. Larry Bird

Career Stats: 24.3 PPG 10.0 REB 6.3 AST

Accomplishments: 12x All-Star 3x NBA Champ 2x Finals MVP 3x MVP 

Larry Legend was drafted by the Celtics and made an immediate impact on the team. The year before Larry came into town with his iconic mustache the Celtics were a miserable 29 win team and immediately following the year after they drafted him they would win 61 games. A 32 game turnaround which still stands as the most impactful season a rookie has ever had on a team. 

Continue reading “Greatest Small Forwards in NBA History”