Golden State Warriors' JaVale McGee, top left, Kevin Durant, top center, Stephen Curry, center right, and Draymond Green, top right, join the rest of their team as they pose with the trophy after their 129-115 win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 4 of the NBA basketball Western Conference finals, Monday, May 22, 2017, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Too-early but in-depth Predictions for the West: TIER 1: SUREFIRE PLAYOFF TEAMS

 

TIER 1: SUREFIRE PLAYOFF TEAMS

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder

tier 1
Can the addition of Paul George to Russell Westbrook vault OKC into serious contention?

Actual record last year: 47-35 (+0.8 point differential)

Record should have been

There are many factors that suggest that the Oklahoma City Thunder over-achieved with 47 wins last year. Their point differential was near even, they pulled out a lot of close games (which is to their credit, but unlikely to repeat). More than anything, Superman Russell Westbrook played 81 games despite crazy effort each night and shot better than he ever has from beyond the arc.

It’s hard to count on a repeat of those factors, which means this team may have been only around 43-44 wins if they ran it back. Given that, it’s not a surprise that they decided to shake it up.

Impact adds

SF Paul George, PF Patrick Patterson

Impact losses

SG Victor Oladipo, PF Taj Gibson

Predicted win-loss total

I wrote a more in-depth post on the team here: “from pretender to contender: the story of OKC’s summer”, which explains more reasons how the team took a genuine leap up in status. record: 52-30.

(3) San Antonio Spurs

Actual record last year: 61-21 (+7.2 point differential)

Record should have been

Tony Parker and Pau Gasol missed time last year, but given their age, that could have been expected. The 61-21 record feels appropriate.

Impact adds

SF Rudy Gay, PG Derrick White (R)

Impact losses

No one yet, but they have FAs like Pau Gasol, Jonathon Simmons, and Dewayne Dedmon

Predicted win-loss total

I’m a Rudy Gay defender in general, but he may take some time to round into shape post-injury and work his way into the Spurs system.

In the meantime, this team may not be as dominant last year, considering that they have several rotational players (Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge) who appear to be declining. That, coupled with the fact that the team doesn’t have a huge incentive to “go for broke” in the regular season, means they could have a modest regular season by their incredible standards. record: 57-25 But remember: this is a regular season projection; the team may be able to crank it up in the playoffs.

(2) Houston Rockets

Actual record last year: 55-27 (+5.8 point differential)

Record should have been

Like Oklahoma City, I suspect that Houston may have overachieved last year in terms of their regular season record. Like OKC, they were reliant on their one superstar, who happened to stay healthy all year long — James Harden played 81 games at 36.4 minutes a night. It’s unlikely for anyone to be able to duplicate that. It’s even more unlikely that role players Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon will be able to play 72+ games again at such a high level.

All in all, 52-53 wins may have been more expected.

Impact adds

PG Chris Paul, SF P.J. Tucker, maybe SF Carmelo Anthony

Impact losses

PG Patrick Beverly, SG Lou Williams, SF Sam Dekker

Predicted win-loss total

Like most people, I’m trying to wrap my mind around the pairing of Chris Paul and James Harden. Both players are obviously superstars, but the question is about the “fit.”

I can see the skeptical side of the argument. Both Paul and Harden are used to having the ball. Perhaps Chris Paul’s best quality is his ability to control the pace of the game — you can’t do that without the ball. Perhaps James Harden’s best quality is his ability to draw fouls — you can’t do that without the ball.

On the positive side, the Rockets will really benefit from having two superstars that they can stagger at all times. To keep them fresh, maybe Chris Paul and even Harden should be playing 32 minutes in the regular season — which makes 16 minutes a night when they’re not on the court. If you can have Paul or Harden on the court every minute, your offense will hum for 48 minutes straight.

For that reason, I’m high on their regular season win total. I also think they’ll be motivated to try hard early on (more so than San Antonio) in order to prove their doubters wrong and establish themselves as a true threat. record: 58-24. If they can bring Carmelo Anthony into the fold, 60 wins isn’t out of the question.

(1) Golden State Warriors

Actual record last year: 67-15 (+11.6 point differential)

Record should have been

It’s amazing but true: 67 wins may have been on the “low end” for this team’s expectations. Kevin Durant missed 20 games, and Steph Curry shot below his usual standards. If those two factors regress (“upwards” in this case), this same team would win 70.

Impact adds

SG Nick Young, SF Omri Casspi, C Jordan Bell (R)

Impact losses

no one yet, but SG Ian Clark and C JaVale McGee are FAs

Predicted win-loss total

Sorry to the rest of the NBA, but the Warriors should be even better this year. They’ll have a year of chemistry under their belts, after some tentative play early in the year. Their bench should be better as well, with professional shot makers like Swaggy P and the Israeli Assassin Omri Casspi.

The only question here is: how motivated will the Warriors be to pile up wins? If their only goal was the regular season, they could squeeze 74+ and break their own record. More likely, they’ll be content to roll through with 70, dropping a few losses with the occasional lapse here and there and the increased talent in the West. record: 71-11. Again, it’s all a matter of effort. If the Warriors are truly 10 games up on the rest of the league as this projection indicates, we could be seeing a lot of their younger bench players in the last few weeks of the year.

Full Series:
Eastern Conference: 
Tier 3Tier 2Tier 1
Western Conference: Tier 3, Tier 2, Tier 1

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