Western Conference Power Rankings

Season opens tonight. To get this out in time, the teams out of the playoffs are a bit shorter.

#1 Lakers: I may have an LA bias, but they seem to be the consensus #1 pick even among non-Laker fans. With a healthy Andrew Bynum, they have the potential to be virtually unstoppable. They have the most formidable frontcourt in the NBA. Any time an NBA team can toy with the idea of bringing Lamar Odom off the bench, there is no shortage of talent on that team, and if that is the team's biggest problem, it seems like they will be fine. They made it to the Finals without Bynum, and now the only question will be whether they can get back and get over the hump with Bynum. They have the league's MVP and best player in the world. They have a veteran point guard with the young point guard ready to inherit the reigns in Jordan Farmar. Every guard or SF on the Lakers can hit an open jump shot which is going to stretch the floor with Gasol and Bynum commanding so much attention down low. Also, with the addition of Bynum, it will allow Gasol to play his natural position at the 4 and play face up instead of have to bang down low. It was his clear flaw that was exposed in the Finals. If everything goes as planned, the Lakers should be hoisting the trophy in June.

#2. Hornets: With Chris Paul having another year of experience and making a deep run into the playoffs, you have to give them credit in the West. They have the pieces that any contender needs to have. They have a big defensive presence down low in Chandler, they have an all-star power forward in David West, a gunner in Peja to spread the floor, and of course, the superstar leader in Chris Paul. The Hornets did themselves a huge favor in picking up James Posey. He made his stock rise dramatically in the Finals last season when he proved that he brings hustle and big shots at a championship level. He will be making a big impact for the Hornets this season. The one problem I see for the Hornets is the thin bench. The biggest example of this is Mike James making $6.2 million sitting behing CP3, but not producing anywhere near that. With the exception of 3 and maybe the 4 spot, they don't have an impact player at the position. Julian Wright, the Kansas Jayhawks star, is a solid player with tons of talent, but it is yet to be seen whether he will be able to make an impact off the bench at the 4 spot backing up David West. Nonetheless, the Hornets have been able to make this roster work, and with Posey backing up the 3 spot there was an upgrade there, but they better hope that they don't have to pull other guys off the bench during the season. This team will be good for a long time.

#3 Rockets: The only reason they weren't at the # 2 spot on this list is because there are two question marks for this team. 1) Will Artest be able to find a role on this team and be consistent with it throughout the team? 2) Will this team stay healthy? If the answer to those two questions is a strong 'yes' then this team is a Western Conference contender. Yao has been the focal point of this team with Tracy McGrady as a wing man. They have been an unbelievablly good defensive team in the past years, and last season, they only allowed their opponents 92 points a game. With Artest, that average should be going down to 90 or sub-90 points allowed. That is a scary prospect for opposing teams. They have one of the best lock down defenders in Shane Battier and adding Artest is going to cause a lot of offensive clogs in opposing teams. Tracy McGrady is a scorer, but he continues to take bad shots. Look for him to feel less burdened this season and let the game come to him. He should have a solid season if he can stay healthy. As for Yao, he is coming off a stress fracture injury, but showed no signs of that in the Olympics this summer. He should be ready to go, but his soft presences around the rim needs to improve. People also criticize the Rockets by saying that Rafer Alston is not a real point guard in the NBA. Stop. Shed your notion of the "Skip to My Lou" Alston and think of the solid all around guard that is incredibly streaky scoring 13.1 points (3rd highest on the team last season), the good defender who leads the Rockets in steals with 1.32 a game, and he can also get some assists here and there. It is true that Alston needs to up that assist average if he is going to make a valuable impact on the team this year. Also, don't forget that Artest had the best season of his career under Rick Adelman. A very encouraging fact for Rockets fans. This will undoubtedly be the year T-Mac and the Rockets get past the first round.

#4 Jazz: This team has a lot of weapons. They were a handfull for the Lakers last season in the Western Conference semi's. As an NBA fan, you can't help but admire Deron Williams' game. He is the prototype NBA point guard who can do it all. At 6'3 207lbs, he can play good defense, get to the basket, pass, and do everything in between. He averaged 18.8 ppg behind Boozer's 21.1 ppg, and Williams dropped 10.5 dimes a game. He is clearly one of the top 3 point guards in the league, and could soon move up to 1 or 2 when Steve Nash starts his decline. I strongly believe that Williams can keep this Jazz team, and any other team for that matter, competitive in the Conference when he is running the ball up the court. Boozer is clearly a force for the Jazz. He is the leading scorer and also grabs 10.4 boards a game. Solid numbers for an olympic player, but he was inconsistent in the playoffs last year. If Boozer steps up and plays to his regular season numbers, it will allow the Jazz to be a force in the West this year. Expect Ronnie Brewer to make a huge impact this season. He is often overlooked, but playing besides Williams he was still able to score 12 ppg, 4 assts, and lead the Jazz in steals at 1.7 in only 27.5 minutes of play. If he continues this production, I can't see how Jerry Sloan sits him for more than 10-15 minutes a game. Of course, you always have Mehmet Okur the Center who stretches the floor with his shooting range. As interesting as that may sound, I think it hurts the Jazz they don't have a post player who takes away attention from Boozer. If Okur brought his game to the basket all the time, defenses wouldn't just default to Boozer's side. It might be an area the Jazz need to address. Andrei Kirilenko is also a frustrating player. He was once considered an all-star callibur player and he even leads the team in blocks at 1.51 and picked 1.19 steals. Clearly, the lock down defender they throw on the opposing team's best player. His work on the defensive end might be translating into lack of energy on offense. A question the Jazz need to ask is if they are willing to make that tradeoff. They may not have any other choice. It has worked for the Spurs. We can expect to see the Jazz get back to the Western Conference semi's but, not able to get past it. Sorry Jazz fans.

#5 Spurs: As you can see, the gap might be closed for the Spurs. They fall lower and lower every year on the power rankings. You can never count them out though because of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. The thing that hurts them this season is Manu Ginobli's injury. If those three are healthy, they can make a big impact on the season. Without the Big 3's production, they will struggle. The roster is very injury prone as well as aging. Bruce Bowen is assigned to guard the team's best player every night and is undoubtedly taking a toll on his body. Outside of the Big 3, they get consistent production out of Michael Finley and Brent Barry. There aren't many other quality impact players on this team, and it could be time for the Spurs to rebuild around Tony Parker. It was a good run, but the time may be over. It is the reality of pro sports.

#6 Suns: No matter what people say, they still have the core of Steve Nash and Amare. I put them lower than the Spurs due only to the fact that Shaq hurts this team. Amare and Nash want to push the ball and run the floor, but with new coach Terry Porter, things are going to slow down a bit. Shaq is clearly not his former dominant self and is dragging this team down. Unless Shaq comes out this season and turns things around, the Suns are going to be stuck at the bottom echelon of the Western Conference. Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell and Grant Hill make up the other part of this Suns team. Hill's aging body is not going to help this team, but he provides experience and leadership that will count for something as this team heads into the playoffs. The Suns toyed with the idea of trading Barbosa and even Diaw, but for now, they are Suns. A trade for these two players would likely bring in some good talent, and I'm sure the Suns will entertain that thought again towards the trade deadline. The Suns roster is surprisingly deep with these players on the team, but this is essentially the same roster as last season. This roster brought us one of the most exciting playoff games in NBA history in Game 1 against the Spurs, but outside of that, there wasn't much noise from this team. Look for this season to be much of the same and the Suns will hit the drawing board again in order to win that elusive NBA championship.

#7 Mavericks: I don't care how much Mark Cuban talks about championship. The reality is that this team doesn't have a chance. Much like the Suns, trading the young Devin Harris for the old Jason Kidd proved to be disastrous. They won't be able to get past the mental playoff block after they suffered the BIGGEST UPSET in sports history. Yes, an 8 seed over 1 seed in a 7 game series is by definition, the biggest upset in sports history, and will likely remain like that for a while. Cuban blamed it on Avery Johnson, and has now brought in Rick Carlisle. If this coaching change doesn't fix it, there might be some work to do for this roster. Dirk Nowitski will continue to be a superstar with his deadly jumpshot and aggressive style of basketball. Josh Howard and Jason Terry will be consistent scorers and also bring their solid all around games every night, but outside of that, the Mavericks are hurting. A core of Dirk, Kidd, Howard, and Terry will not get them far in the west. The reason is that Kidd doesn't score enough for them to have an impact. Kidd is a distributor. He needs two big time scorers (20-25+) to make a meaningful impact on the team. Dirk averages a bit over 23 ppg and Howard averages just under 20 a game. Not enough to make up for Kidd's lack of scoring. Don't expect this Mavs team to go far. The West is too deep for a roster with so many holes to make any meaningful runs in the season and playoffs. They will likely drop in the first round unless they can pull a Golden State Warriors and upset like they were 2 seasons ago.

#8 Blazers: They were in the playoff race until the last week of the season last year. They even lost Brandon Roy for a portion of the season, and were still a player in the 8th spot race. They got Greg Oden back making his debut tonight against the Lakers and he probably won't see a lot of minutes at the beginning of the season, but it will steadily increase as the season progresses. Brandon Roy also got a lot of attention last season as he lead the Blazers to their 17 game winning streak. With Roy healthy, this Blazers team could make a deep mark in the West this year. LaMarcus Aldridge has been working on his game a lot this summer and should have an improved jump shot this season which will help the Blazers a lot. He can also play down low which takes pressure off of Oden and Pryzbilla and will create opportunities for players like Steve Blake and their new gem, Rudy Fernandez. I also like the pick up of Jerryd Bayless. Bayless might not be able to make an impact this season as he is just a raw talent at this point, but he is a long term project that the Blazers are really fond of. This Blazers team has the potential to make the playoffs, but beyond the first round might be a stretch. This team will be a force in the coming years.

#9 Clippers: Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, and Marcus Camby usually would translate into automatic success. Don't see it happening with a core of those three players because they don't have much supporting help. They will undoubtedly be competitive, but they are injury prone as well as very thin. It might be another year or two until the Clippers can reach full potential.

#10 Nuggets: The Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony experiment hasn't worked. AI is aging and the Nuggets toyed with trading Melo to the Pistons. This team has tremendous talent, but has almost no defense. They let opponents score 107 ppg last season, and they lost their best defender in Camby. Things aren't looking up for the Nuggets, but J.R Smith has been getting a lot of press this offseason for being one of the only players on the Nuggets who showed up against the Lakers in the first round. It is time to push the 'rebuild button' in Denver.

#11 Kings: They have one year under Reggie Theus and have a chance to improve. They aren't thinking playoffs just yet. They are still a little underdeveloped. They have one of the best up and coming guards in Kevin Martin that they have put a lot of money into. They also have Francisco Garcia, a guy who is going to play a lot of positions for Theus this year. Brad Miller is aging, but still productive. This might not be Sacramento's year, but I think they improve from last year. It will be another year or two until they make significant movement on this list.

#12 Warriors: The controversy with Monta Ellis is not good for team chemistry. Ellis is out 30 games, that will definitely take its toll on this Warrior team. They lost the Elton Brand sweepstakes and also lost Baron Davis. Don Nelson's Warriors are in a tight position now. They have the ultra athletic Corey Maggette, but that won't be enough to do much in the Westen Conference. Stephen Jackson will get his 20points and a few boards and a steal or two a game and Al Harrington will still give 13ppg, but not play like a true power forward. Biedrins had the highest field goal percentage last season, but doesn't score enough to make a different. Bottom line is that without Ellis, this team doesn't have much else. Jackson, Harrington and Maggette can't do it themselves.

#13 Grizzlies: They don't seem that bad off from the Pau Gasol trade. They got Marc Gasol who played very well in the preseason. They also got the exciting and talented OJ Mayo. They throw him back there with Mike Conley, and the Grizzlies might have a respectable backcourt. They also got their #1 scorer in Rudy Gay who puts up 20ppg and grabs 6 rebs. This team is on its way up. Darko is not a force for this team, but Hakim Warrick could be. Warrick gets a shade above 11 ppg and needs to increase his rebounds from 4.7 a game for him to be truly effective. This team also has intriguing trade pieces at the point guard in Javaris Crittendon and Kyle Lowry. This team is definitely moving in the right direction, and if this continues could find themselves in the playoffs sooner than we realize.

#14 Timberwolves: This team has a great prospect in Al Jefferson. They also made the trade to get Kevin Love to help complement Jefferson in the front court. Corey Brewer is still underdeveloped and inconsistent. Randy Foye and Rashard McCants aren't much to look at for playing alongside Jefferson. Telfair is also not producing up to any expectations that people had of him when he was drafted. This team is sort of stuck in a dead zone. Doesn't seem like they are going to be able to break out of it any time soon.

#15 Thunder: Not much here outside of Kevin Durant. They hope that Russell Westbrook will pan out. They just made a controversial and publicized move from Seattle. It is going to take a while for them to rebuild this team around Kevin Durant. Luckily, KD has a long time left in his career. Their success depends on what moves they make from this point on.

Enjoy the season.


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