#1 Los Angeles Clippers (48-34)
Off: 9th Def: 19th Net: +1.0(13th)
Goodbye: Danilo Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander
Hello: Paul George and Kawhi Leonard
XIII’s Factor: Paul George
The Clippers under Doc Rivers just don’t record losing seasons. To add to his legacy even more, Rivers coached them to the playoffs in a stacked Western Conference while simultaneously giving a health Warriors a run for their money. So with the culture and team play they already have established there, what occurs when you add to people who were in the race for the MVP last season at the same position? We are about to find out. Leonard arguably had one of the most iconic and legendary playoff runs that has occurred since Dwayne Wade against the Mavericks. He is a force on both sides of the floor at an elite level. Paul George is a great player on both sides of the ball. Now imagine them playing off of each other and complimenting each other’s game by how diverse both of their games are just as the Portland Trailblazers backcourt made a name for themselves. Then of course you must add Patrick Beverly in the conversation.
#2 Utah Jazz (50-32)
Off: 14th Def: 2nd Net: +5.0(4th)
Goodbye: Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Ricky Rubio
Hello: Bojan Bogdanovic, Micahel Conley and role players
XIII’s Factor: Closing games
Personally, the Jazz are one of my favorite teams in the league. Now, they have strengthened the areas in which they were weak. The ability to defend has not been the problem with them since Gobert has been in his prime but the ability to score at times when it mattered has been nearly absent. Two note worthy additions to supplement their offensive struggles came in the form of Bogdanovic and Conley. Bojan Bogdanovic held is own with nearly 20 points a game and is more of a clutch player than people are led to believe. His postseason play and regular seasons play would lead you to believe he is a different player. Conley helps on both sides of the court and is capable of not only running the floor, but locking down on defense and scoring in the clutch. They have a complete team with Donavan Mitchell still not fully developed. Their defense will not be the only thing teams are weary of.
#3 Denver Nuggets (54-28)
Off: 7th Def: 10th Net: +4.0(8th)
Goodbye: No one
Hello: Jerami Grant
XIII’s Factor: Success with The Joker on the bench
Jokic and Murray are a duo that proves chemistry is everything. The understanding they have of each other is like few others share in the league itself. The Nuggets outside these two have a good roster and not too many changes. Consistency is key right? So how do they improve on an already great team? Finding a way to effectively rest Jokic during games and not rely so heavily on his talents at all times. Michael Porter Jr. will help with things off the bench. A healthy Gary Harris may take the light off Murray to help create more for him and others because Harris is that good. If he takes a step forward, the bench steps up, these youngsters brainwash themselves with film….their journey to the Finals could be feasible. If they don’t do that, all hope is not yet lost. The Joker is the best all around big man this game has seen in a long time. Foresee him on the ladder for MVP this year because he is only getting better and better.
#4 Los Angeles Lakers (37-45)
Off: 24th Def: 13th Net: -1.6(22nd)
Goodbye: Ball and Ingram
Hello: AD, Cousins and Danny Green
XIII’s Factor: DeMarcus Cousins
King James and AD. Two of the top five players in the NBA, on this planet are now in LA. The expectations are through the season and after a crazy off season where they could’ve been better by acquiring Kawhi, they recoup and embrace for a season with him as their neighbor. LeBron James is 35 years old and seems to have defied Father Time with his dunks posted on social media taking the spot light from his son. Statistically, he had a great season last year and could very much so reproduce that. If he wants AD to win MVP he will be the best possible way for it to occur. The king has lost his throne and has much to prove alongside of his new teammate. AD will put up the numbers regardless and as long as he is not injured, the Lakers will make it deep in the playoffs. DeMarcus Cousins is actually someone many are overlooking. With AD’s track record in injuries it would be great if Cousins could be a viable option and force. If they were anything they were while playing together in New Orleans, the Lakers will be the most dominant team in basketball. Other than that, LeBron has his team constructed the way he likes and has a loyal servant in Kyle Kuzma.
#5 Golden State Warriors (57-25)
Off: 1st Def: 11th Net: +6.5(2nd)
Goodbye: KD, Iggy, Cousins and bench
Hello: D’Angelo Russell
XIII’s Factor: Steve Kerr
The disrespect continues as many doubt Golden State having a presence this season coming and the postseason following. It is mind-numbing that someone that one back to back MVPs and who has had the impact he has had on the game is being ruled out because of KD leaving. Prior to KD, Steph led the Warriors to a ring and put KD out of the playoffs. Now, they have lost Iggy to who I have a renowned respect for but they still have the player that he coveted and protected. Klay is injured but will be back in the postseason or even possibly before. Draymond just got an extension and will not be the same Draymond of last year. Their smart addition of D’Angelo will create an offense that will supplement what Steph Curry has already done to the game. They will be one of the most fun teams to watch still even with Klay injured. That’s a guarantee.
#6 Portland Trailblazers (53-29)
Off: 3rd Def: 16th Net: +4.2(7th)
Goodbye: Half of the roster
Hello: Bazemore and Whiteside
XIII’s Factor: The BIGS
Boasting one of the most dangerous back courts in the league, Portland has found its formula to success and is running with it. They made an overhaul in changes to the roster and it is impressive. The acquired Whiteside and a big that can interrupt the flow in the paint defensively is valued in this league. The effectiveness of their backcourt is glaringly obvious and they have done right by building around them as their core. They put the Thunder out of the playoffs behind Many may be upset about their position above the Rockets and company but they made it to the Western Conference Finals and actually made decent pick-ups this off season as previously stated. To make the next step forward they added a big that doesn’t necessarily have to start but can and will be a more than effective substitute off the bench. His defense is not as good as everyone is led to believe but it is above average and amongst the best they could obtain. Expect the same level of play from a team that continues to prove themselves year in and year out.
#7 Houston Rockets (53-29)
Off: 2nd Def: 17th Net: +4.8(5th)
Hello: Russell Westbrook
XIII’s Factor: Chemistry of MVPs
Chris Paul is not a bad player. In fact, he is one of the most brilliant minds that has ever graced an NBA court. What he brings to the team on an IQ level will be hard to replace both defensively and offensively. Statistics are not everything and to Westbrook they are in my opinion. He has to change that perspective in order for this to workout and not become another Carmelo Anthony in the league career wise. Both players were great individuals, but could not get it done where it mattered most; obtaining a title. I can see the reason for excitement but you have to weigh in on everything. How much of a gain was Westbrook?
#8 San Antonio Spurs (48-34)
Off: 6th Def: 20th Net: +1.6(12th)
Goodbye: David Bertans
Hello: Murray(from injury) and Tim Duncan(assistant coach)
XIII’s Factor: Murray
The Spurs simply put, are the Spurs. They are one of the best franchises in sports history. That point changed when two decades ago, they decided not to fire Greg Popovich. Since then they’ve been 50 plus wins every season and that is far from an exaggeration. With not much change to the roster and a surprisingly quick development of their young guards, the Spurs find themselves still in contention for the playoffs. Aldridge and Double D has had ample amount of time to develop their chemistry with the system and with each other so expect nothing but consistency alongside of quality numbers within Popovich’s scheme. Dejounte Murray, when healthy, is one of the most tenacious perimeter defenders in the league and very few can stop him from getting to the rack. If he is back 90% you will see a significant difference in the Spurs of last year and the Spurs of this year.