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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Post-Free Agency Power Rankings Western Conference Part 1

Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen to the first annual Post-Free Agency Power Rankings! This is part one of two of the rankings focusing on the Western Conference. Today’s post will focus on the bottom-half of the Western Conference, and the top/playoff teams will be ranked in a day or two. In the next few days, the Eastern Conference will get the spotlight and will be analyzed deeply by yours truly.

Let me clarify: I know what you’re thinking… Free agency is not even over yet! There is still time for impact players to switch teams and trades that could still happen!

Precisely. This is why I will be posting a power ranking closer to the beginning of the season, but consider this the much too early offseason rankings that are bound to change by the beginning of the NBA season.

15. Denver Nuggets:
Projected starting lineup-
PG Ty Lawson (see video clip)
SG Randy Foye
SF Wilson Chandler
PF Kenneth Faried
C Jusuf Nurkic
Analysis: The Nuggets do have some promising youngsters, like Mudiay, Nurkic, and Gary Harris, but I think that the talent is severely lacking on this team. With Ty Lawson clearly unhappy, I predict a very disappointing year from the Nuggets this season. They have not done much in free agency, but a deal for Lawson seems to be coming. Lawson’s asking price likely has plummeted, and I do not see a potential deal for him that will make the Nuggets drastically better this season. In a Western conference that seems to get more competitive every summer, the Nuggets will circle the drain with an unimpressive roster and an unhappy star.
14.  Los Angeles Lakers
Projected Starting Lineup-
PG Jordan Clarkson
SG D’Angelo Russell
SF Kobe Bryant
PF Julius Randle
C Roy Hibbert
Analysis: I will most certainly get some Lakers fans hating on me for this selection, but I just do not see the potential for success with this team. The good news is that the Lakers are a little better with the additions of Hibbert, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass, but not by much. If Russell and Randle meet the massive expectations placed upon them, there is a chance that the Lakers can make a push for the eighth spot, but Randle and Russell will not be stars right away. Crafting rookies into elite NBA players is a process that takes time, and the Lakers must have patience and not expect immediate success after the first week of the season. An aging, fragile Kobe and a cast of young, inexperienced players spells a down year for this historically successful franchise. It’s tough to go from Aldridge, Love, and Jordan to Hibbert, Williams, and Bass.

13. Portland Trailblazers
Projected Starting Lineup-
PG Damian Lillard
SG CJ McCollum
SF Al-Farouq Aminu
PF Ed Davis/ Noah Vonleh
C Mason Plumlee
Analysis: For a team that lost four of its five starters and its number one option off the bench, the Blazers actually rebounded nicely. Not nicely enough to land them higher than 13 in a wildly competitive Western Conference, but landing Davis, Vonleh, Aminu, and Plumlee makes the future just a twinkle brighter. Lillard is hyper competitive and will keep the Blazers  in many games, but the lack of talent and depth will ultimately cause the Blazers to look ahead to the 2016 Draft. Tough to see such a large drop in the standings from one season to the next, but the quality drop off is significant, despite smart basketball moves in the draft and free agency.
12. Sacramento Kings:
Projected Starting Lineup-
PG Rajon Rondo
SG Ben McLemore/Bellinelli
SF Rudy Gay
PF Willie Cauley-Stein
C DeMarcus Cousins
Analysis: The Kings are currently the laughingstock of the NBA. Mind-boggling trades, a dispute between a star player and an experienced coach, a dysfunctional front office, and a bizarre trade situation that will force the front office to decide between the star player and the coach. Offense deficient WCS will be left wide open, causing double teams to be used against Boogie every time down the floor. Add to that the fact that Rondo is less than a shell of his former self and you have yourself a downright disaster of an NBA team. So what is it that is keeping the Kings at the 12 spot and not at 14 or 15? It is the simple fact that they have a top-15 player in the league. Despite his questionable personality, the Kings were playing well with the Boogie-Rudy combination and were cruising early in the season until Boogie’s injury. If they can show moderate flashes of that team from the beginning of last season, I do not see the Kings at the bottom of the Western Conference.
11. Phoenix Suns:
PG Brandon Knight
SG Eric Bledsoe
SF PJ Tucker
PF Markieff Morris
C Tyson Chandler
Analysis: This could be a very unpopular opinion, but I do not think that this Suns roster meshes well. Chandler shocked the basketball world when he opted to take his talents to Phoenix, causing a large push for Aldridge in Phoenix. The race to create cap room resulted in a trade sending Marcus Morris, Danny Granger, and Reggie Bullock to the Pistons, a deal that I am not a fan of. It is not the fact that I am in love with any of the players they got rid of (Bullock could turn out to be a decent role player, but neither Granger or Morris get me excited), but rather the chemistry lost over an unlikely dream of landing LA. Aldridge had an easy decision when the Spurs came knocking at his door, and getting rid of the second Morris brother to accomplish this may have destroyed what Markieff is able to do this year!! Maybe an overreaction but still. The Suns slumped at the end of 2015 and I expect that to carry over to next season, despite the addition of a talented, athletic (but aging) big like Chandler.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves:
 Projected Starting Lineup-
PG Ricky Rubio
SG Kevin Martin
SF Andrew Wiggins
PF Karl-Anthony Towns
C Gorgui Dieng
Analysis: Yes I may be a homer, but I think that a tenth place finish for the Timberwolves is definitely within reach. The Timberwolves are one of the most promising young teams (along with the Bucks and Jazz) and have lots of skilled players on the roster. With another year of experience, Wiggins and Zach Lavine look to make a leap, and veterans Kevin Garnett and Kevin Martin will help craft these young guns into professionals. The addition of European League MVP Nemanja Bjelica provides a unique X-factor to the roster, and Tyus Jones will fill the seats at the Target Center. If last season’s impressive rookies make a leap, the Timberwolves will be able to challenge for the eighth seed. Rubio needs to stay healthy to reach this type of success and KAT needs to perform
up to his first overall pick standards. This team will definitely be in the playoff hunt in the 2016-17 season.
9. Utah Jazz
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG Dante Exum
SG Alec Burks
SF Gordon Hayward
PF Derrick Favors
C Rudy Gobert
Analysis: Last season’s biggest surprise will take another leap, finishing the season just a game or two short of a playoff spot. It has been a relatively quiet offseason for the Jazz, but there seems to be the potential to move Burke for some assets to pave way for Bryce Cotton and Olivier Hanlan (who was one of the most underrated players in the draft). Rudy Gobert emerged as one of the top defenders in the league, Favors remains one of the most underrated players in the NBA, and Hayward played well throughout the year. The Jazz are an all-around solid team that has depth throughout the roster to compete for a playoff spot in the West. If we see the same Jazz team we saw after the all star break, I have confidence it will come down to the last few games to decide the eighth seed between the Jazz and the……..

Part 2 of the Western Conference coming soon.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter @TheShotClockMN for sports tweets (some of them are real funny).
Feedback and discussion is encouraged through comments, DM’s, or emails (pmalin@hamilton.edu)
See you for part 2!