As the NBA preseason unfolds and we draw closer and closer to the start of the 2015-16 regular season, we can only hope this year brings about as much joy as last year’s did. And while that may prove to be wishful thinking, there is one thing we have a feeling will continue to hold true: The Western Conference will remain the one to beat.
From the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, and San Antonio Spurs, the best of the best reside in the West. The only difference between this year and last, is that we honestly have no idea how these clubs will line up in the end-of-the-year standings. Still, that will never stop us from making our predictions.
Therefore, as we look forward to the start of the new year, here are our five Western Conference predictions for the 2015-16 NBA season.
1. It will not be a smooth transition for the Los Angeles Lakers
With Kobe Bryant’s return to the game following last season’s shoulder injury — in what could potentially be his final year in the NBA — and an influx of young talent, the Los Angeles Lakers are hoping to reverse their fortunes in 2015-16. Unfortunately, as much we’d like to believe that Showtime will once again be returning to Hollywood, we have a feeling the road back to relevancy is going to be a bumpy one.
It’s not just that the Lakers have started the preseason off 0-3, it’s that injuries continue to hamper this club’s ability to form any sort of continuity. While Julius Randle — the No. 7 overall pick in 2014 — has been a beast since coming back from the broken leg he suffered last year, rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell — the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 draft — has been up and down since putting on the Purple and Gold. If the Lakers hope for any sort of success, then they will need all their young players to grow up quickly. Something that’s easier said than done.
2. The Minnesota Timberwolves may be worth watching
This prediction says nothing about whether or not the Minnesota Timberwolves will be successful during the 2015-16 season. Not even we can go that far. However, in terms of teams that may prove to be worth your time, you could do far worse than the Timberwolves.
Last year’s rookie of the year — and No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft — Andrew Wiggins developed as a player much faster than most had anticipated. If he continues to make strides this season, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be a bona fide superstar for years to come. Throw in this year’s No. 1 overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns — a possible game-changing two-way center — and high-flyer Zach LaVine, and the Timberwolves have the makings of a young and entertaining squad. We expect to see some of that in 2015-16.
3. Anthony Davis and the Pelicans will take the next step
All Anthony Davis did in his third NBA season was put up 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game, lead the New Orleans Pelicans to the postseason, and assert himself as one of the most dominant players in the league. If the 2014-15 season was when Davis and the Pelicans had officially arrived, expect this group to take the next step this year.
Now that offensive mastermind Alvin Gentry has taken over head coaching duties, we thoroughly believe Davis’s game is about to reach an entirely new level of awesomeness. And when that happens, there’s no telling what the Pelicans will be able to accomplish. Of course, if we had to take a guess, we’d say winning a playoff series in the near future is not out of the realm of possibility
4. The Oklahoma City Thunder will reestablish their place among the West’s elite
The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t make the playoffs last year. They also didn’t have Kevin Durant for most of the season. But now that he’s back on the floor, it’s time to put OKC back in its rightful place near the top of the NBA pecking order. Anything else would be completely disrespectful.
When KD and Russell Westbrook are at their best, this team is as feared as any in the National Basketball Association. While Billy Donovan will be entering his first year as a head coach at the highest level, he should be able to mold this talented group into something truly special. Not a bad way to start his NBA career.
5. The Golden State Warriors will remain the team to beat
The Golden State Warriors may be forced to survive the beginning of the 2015-16 season without head coach Steve Kerr, but that doesn’t change the simple fact that this is still the best team in the NBA. Anyone who says different is fooling themselves.
With Stephen Curry dropping daggers, Klay Thompson splashing buckets from deep, and the rest of the cast doing its thing, the Warriors should have no problem keeping the good times going. And while all these things should happen, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Dubs are going to repeat as NBA champions. That’s not easy to do. However, if teams are hoping to usurp the Golden State Warriors, they’ll need to bring their A game each and every time. That’s what it’s going to take to knock off the champs.