Thursday, December 22, 2011

30 Teams in 30 Words: Western Conference


As part of an annual predictions exercise, earlier this week I had to fill out a spreadsheet where I predicted the number of wins for each team in the NBA. It was by no means a scientific measure of my thoughts on each NBA team, and it’s not like I went through the schedule day-by-day to pick a winner and loser for each game. I just put a number between 0 and 66 next to each team’s name.

Go ahead, take five minutes and do this exercise yourself. Now, once you’ve assigned a win total to each team, add them up. Does it equal 990? Well, if not, then you’re already wrong.

See, there will be 990 games played in this lockout-shortened NBA season, which means any league-wide prediction of team-by-team win totals needs to come out to that exact number.

So how many wins did I predict for the NBA on the first go-round? Try 945. Whoops.

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve done this, and the first time I’ve come up short. Normally I’m over optimistic, and exceed the wins total by about 20 or so. But this season is different (and not just because the win total is 990 instead of 1230). The compressed schedule is going to negatively affect the level of play, and I think subconsciously, that affected my impression of each team. We can talk about teams that the schedule and shortened season will “help”, but really that’s just a euphemism for “hurt less”.

In the end, I went back, revised my win totals for each team, then sorted them to see how I thought the teams would line up in each conference. And while it didn’t quite end up the way I would have predicted it if I’d just gone straight down and picked 1-15, it’s the order I’m sticking with for my official conference predictions for 2011-12.

Now, since I’ve already been so long-winded here, I’ll just go ahead and get to the 30 teams, with 30 words on each of them. Today, the Western Conference, followed by the East tomorrow.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

15. New Orleans Hornets
Obviously, I did my predicting after the Chris Paul trade. I like what Eric Gordon brings, but they’re not deep or talented enough to make any kind of playoff run.

14. Sacramento Kings
If I were re-doing this, they’d be higher. Tyreke Evans should have a bounce-back year, and Jimmer is better than a lot of people think. The defense could be unwatchable.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves
I love Rubio and Love as much as the next non-Zach Harper, but Minnesota still has holes. And Anthony Randolph, who looks like he doesn’t know the rules of basketball.

12. Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry is hurt, Monta Ellis is being sued, Kwame Brown is being lambasted. This is going to be a rough start to the Mark Jackson era in Golden State.

11. Houston Rockets
If they’d gotten Pau Gasol and Nene, they would probably be five to six spots higher. As it is, they’ve got Sam Dalembert, and probably another trip to the lottery.

10. Utah Jazz
I am actually starting to like what this team is doing long term, but in the short term, they’ve got a lot of redundant pieces and a lot of needs.

9. Phoenix Suns
They’ll probably be worse than when all is said and done, but I think my brain has a bias in favor of Steve Nash when it comes to predicting wins.

8. Denver Nuggets
I’ve seen predictions all over the place for this team, from top 4 to out of the playoffs. That seems right for a team very much in flux in 2011.

7. Portland Trail Blazers
Between losing Greg Oden, Brandon Roy’s retirement and still not having a GM, it’s been a depressing offseason for Portland fans. It might not get much better very quickly either.

6. Los Angeles Clippers
Everyone needs to slow down on the “Clippers are championship contenders” talk. Yes, CP3 and Blake are great. But they’re still the Clippers, and they’ve still got VDN as coach.

5. Los Angeles Lakers
I had the Lakers finishing with one more win than the Clippers, but that was before the Kobe injury. Now I could legitimately see them flipping spots, which is weird.

4. Memphis Grizzlies
Speaking of injuries, the Darrell Arthur injury could hurt Memphis in a tight Western Conference. There’s not a lot of spacing from 4-8. But I’m still high on the Grizzlies.

3. San Antonio Spurs
I don’t get the predictions of doom in San Antonio. Yes, the compressed schedule will be rough on their old legs, but if anyone can manage that, it’s Gregg Popovich.

2. Dallas Mavericks
I do think they got worse compared to last year, but accounting for the stretch they played without Dirk, last year’s record doesn’t reflect how good they were in 2010-11.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder
After last year’s loss in the conference finals, people are looking at Oklahoma City and wondering if this is the year the Thunder takes the next step. I say yes.

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