It has been about a week since the Denver Nuggets won their first NBA title over the Miami Heat.
If there is any word that describes this past year’s NBA season, it is wild. It was a whirlwind campaign that included the Draymond Green–Jordan Poole incident, the Celtics firing and suspending their head coach for the entire season, both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving getting traded, the first-seeded Bucks losing in the first round, the Heat going on their massive Cinderella run, and Nikola Jokic finally getting the respect he deserves from a lot of fans.
This upcoming offseason will be extremely interesting, too. There is more parity in the league than ever, and teams will be looking to improve a lot.
With all the uncertainties being said, here are way-too-early 2024 Western Conferences standings predictions.
1. Denver Nuggets
It was a pretty easy decision to predict the defending champs and last year’s first seed for 2024. They have the best player in the league in Nikola Jokić, one of the better playoff performer point guards in Jamal Murray, tremendous depth, and a stable head coach. The one piece that they will probably be without next year is Bruce Brown. While it is hard to go back-to-back without a superteam, this was one of the most dominant playoff runs by a squad in the last 30 years. They are not as unstoppable as the 1996 Bulls, but they are still head and shoulders above everyone else as of now.
2. Phoenix Suns
Phoenix will be in an interesting spot next year. They went all in at last year’s deadline by trading away their depth and draft picks for Kevin Durant. While this is a move they should make every time, if you do not win a ring, it ends up looking like a bad call. They also traded Chris Paul and Landry Shamet for Bradley Beal on Sunday. They now have five guys on their roster and are already well over the luxury tax. Since this is the case, they will either have to trade DeAndre Ayton or sign a bunch of guys to veteran minimums. Regardless of what moves they make, the thing that matters the most is whether Durant stays healthy or not. If he stays healthy, a duo of Durant and Devin Booker is hard to count out.
3. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors were truly a disappointment this year. They were the defending champs and overwhelming favorites to come out of the West, yet finished as the sixth seed and barely escaped the first round. With this being said, it is hard to believe that if Curry stays healthy for most of the year (a big if), they will not be in contention. Many believe that the Draymond Green-Jordan Poole situation had long-term effects in the locker room. At least one of them may be gone next year, but if not, it will probably be because they patched up their issues. No matter what, if Steph Curry stays healthy, the Warriors should be in contention.
4. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers had one of the better comeback stories in recent history this past year. On Feb. 25, they were 13th in the West. After finally trading Russell Westbrook and other pieces, they were able to get great contributors in D’Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley. After this, they were able to climb up to the seventh seed, although they nearly lost to the Timberwolves in the play-in tournament. When they made the playoffs, a ton of people doubted them, but they found their way to the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers have not made it too clear how similar their roster will be next year, but if LeBron James and Anthony Davis are playing in April and May, it will be hard to count them out.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
Remember what I said about the Suns’ record relying on Durant’s health? Some might say the same for Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers. Leonard has not been healthy at the end of the last three seasons. There is a strong chance he will play enough games in the regular season to be a higher seed, but it is not realistic to think the Clippers will win more than one playoff series. In the four years of the Leonard and Paul George era, the Clippers have won three playoff series and been to one Conference Finals. It may not be the best idea to break up the All-Star duo, but time is surely running out.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves
There is always one team that exceeds expectations, and I think that will be the Timberwolves. Anthony Edwards took a step up this year, and there are a lot of reasons to believe he will improve even more. There will also be another season of Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert playing together. While it was an awkward fit at the beginning of the year, they got better at the end of the season. There are rumors that Towns might get traded over the offseason, but regardless of what happens, I’m expecting an improved Timberwolves team in 2023-24.
7. Dallas Mavericks
There were few bigger disappointments this year than the Mavericks. While Luka Doncic had a fantastic individual season, the loss of Jalen Brunson turned out to be bigger than everyone thought. After not reaching expectations, they decided to take a big swing at the trade deadline and trade for Kyrie Irving. Doncic and Irving only played 16 games together, and the Mavs dropped out of the playoffs. While it is not clear whether Irving will return, I wouldn’t bet on Luka missing the playoffs two years in a row.
8. Sacramento Kings
Light the Beam! The Kings were straight-up fantastic last season. Most people thought they would be a bottom-five team in the league, but they actually made the playoffs, snapping a 16-year drought. De’Aaron Fox had his best season yet, and Domantas Sabonis was the best center in the league not named Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid. Rookie Keegan Murray was also a fantastic addition to the team. Besides all the players playing exceptional basketball, Sacramento’s new head coach, Mike Brown, turned out to be the perfect match. While this was an awesome story, I am not sure if they will be able to repeat it next year. I am certainly not questioning this team’s potential; it is more a matter of expecting other teams to improve from last year.
9. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have a ton of potential. The All-Star duo of Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson could be one of the best in the league. CJ McCollum, Jonas Valanciunas, and Herb Jones are all fantastic role players, too. However, their main problem is the same as the Clippers: their star player cannot stay healthy. In the four seasons since Williamson has been drafted, he has played in 24, 61, zero, and 29 games per season, respectively. When Williamson is on the court, he is unstoppable, and it is hard to scheme any type of defense to contain him. So if he stays healthy, watch out. However, it is hard to count on that.
10. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are probably the hardest team to predict. On one hand, they just lost their star player and face of the franchise for the first 25 games of the season. Anytime you lose a player of Ja Morant’s talent, it is a gut punch. With this being said, head coach Taylor Jenkins has done a great job the past two years making the most of his team when Morant is not playing. It will be interesting to watch the two versions of the Grizzlies: with Morant and without Morant. They have been a high seed the past couple of years, but with the West being extremely deep and Morant missing 25 games, it is going to be an uphill battle for Memphis.
11. Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard and the Blazers have been just plain mediocre for years now. Since Dame was drafted in 2012, they have won just four playoff series (zero since 2019) and have only advanced past the second round once. As great as Lillard has been in the playoffs, it is super hard to build around an undersized guard. Given that there seems to be no direction with him, as well as the fact that he has an awful contract, the right thing to do would be to trade him, but it does not look like they are interested in doing that. As long as the Blazers are “building” around Dame with mediocre role players, they will be a play-in team at best.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder should be an interesting team this year. Shai GilgeousAlexander took another step last season, making the All-NBA First Team. Oklahoma City as a whole surpassed expectations, too, making the play-in tournament. Role players Josh Giddey, Lu Dort, and Jalen Williams were big reasons for their success. A lot of their success will depend on how Chet Holmgren plays in his rookie season. He has both first-season jitters and his foot injury to worry about. While some may expect more big jumps from this young squad, it will be tough to overcome the talent in the West.
13. San Antonio Spurs
After nearly two decades of being one of the most successful franchises in the league, the Spurs have not made the playoffs since 2019. Besides Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, they do not have anyone on their current roster that is too impressive. However, lucky for them, they won the draft lottery in the year that the best prospect since James is draft-eligible. I think Victor Wembanyama is going to be a fantastic player, but it is not likely a 19-year-old is going to turn a 22-win team into something relevant on his own.
14. Houston Rockets
After completely blowing up their team by trading James Harden in 2021, the Rockets have not been able to build themselves back to a competitive state. Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Şengün, and Jabari Smith Jr. have all been solid, but it is unclear what their ceiling is. There are rumors that Harden might come back this season, but that could arguably be a step backward. Houston has the fourth pick in the draft this year, so it will be interesting to see who joins this young core.
15. Utah Jazz
The Jazz got off to a hot start at the beginning of the 2022-23 season but fell off big time. They started the season 12-6 before finishing with a 37-45 record. Lauri Markannen had a fantastic season, but it was not enough. Though possible, it will be tough for Markannen to have another season like he did. It will also take a Danny Ainge masterclass this offseason to make the Jazz competitive.
There is an extremely high chance that this list will look completely different by the end of the offseason. They say the NBA is a 12-month sport for a reason, and that is because there is always a whole lot of drama. The coming months will almost certainly be no exception.
Main Image Credit: