NBA Western Conference Power Rankings: The Thunder Improve Without Russ...Rockets Slightly Worse With Russ

(Updated July 11 with Russell Westbrook traded to Houston for Chris Paul)

The Thunder continue to rebuild by trading Russell Westbrook to Houston for Chris Paul and several future 1st round picks. The Thunder are stockpiling future draft picks after trading Paul George, Jerami Grant, and now Russ. The Thunder get better with the loss of Russ and addition of CP3, winning 4.7 more games according to out projections. The Rockets get slightly worse with Russ, but their outlook remains relatively the same. 

1.  L.A. Clippers 28.2% Chance of Winning the West (54.6 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Patrick Beverly, Paul GeorgeKawhi LeonardMoe Harkless, Ivica Zubak

Key Reserves: Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, Mfiondu Kabengele, Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green*

Update: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George vault the Clippers to the favorites in the West. The Clippers jump from the 9th team in the West all the way to 1st. The Clippers are now projected to win 54.6 wins compared to the 42.3 wins before the acquisitions of Leonard and George.

The Clippers are another team still waiting on Kawhi's decision. The Clippers have pretty much put all of their eggs in one basket during Free Agency in order to land Leonard. If they are unable to land Leonard, I wouldn't be surprised if the Clippers make a move for Bradley Beal. I think that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a steal in last year's draft, and Mfiondu Kabengele could end up being a steal in this year's draft. Look for the Clippers to try to bring back JaMychal Green who would probably be the starting 4. The Clippers have gone all in on getting Kawhi, and if they do not, they are not projected to return to the playoffs with just a 26% chance. They have a 5.6% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have a 1.4% chance of getting past round 2. If they do manage to beat the odds and advance past round 2, their chances of winning the West is 0.3%. 

2.  L.A. Lakers 18.6% Chance of Winning the West (52.4 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Rajon Rondo*, Danny Green, Kyle Kuzma, LeBron James, Anthony Davis

Key Reserves: Jared DudleyTroy DanielsTalen Horton-Tucker, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Javale McGee

Update: The Lakers missed out on Kawhi Leonard but immediately went out and signed Free Agent SG Danny Green and re-signed Caldwell-Pope and McGee. The Lakers, who many thought were the favorites to sign Leonard, aren't even the best team in L.A. anymore according to our simulations but did jump the Jazz with the addition of Green. The Lakers have a little bit more cap flexibility to sign another Free Agent or some players around the league that are released. 

The Lakers are still waiting on Kawhi Leonard's decision before they round out the rest of their roster. Leonard would obviously vault the Lakers to the top of the West standings. Even without Leonard, the addition of Anthony Davis gives the Lakers the best chance of any team to win the West. The Lakers should be able to add a handful of veterans to round out their roster, but depth is still concerning for the Lakers. I wouldn't be surprised if J.R. Smith, Andre Iguodala, and Rajon Rondo are on the roster at some point next season. I think being able to keep Kyle Kuzma in the Anthony Davis trade was huge. Kuzma is a good third option if the Lakers don't land Leonard and would be one of the best fourth options id the Lakers do land Leonard. Obviously if they sign Kawhi Leonard then they jump to that 57+ win level and are only not a 65-win team due to load management, and they become the favorite to win it all. They have a 63.2% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have a 37.7% chance of getting past round 2. Their chances of then winning the West is 22%. They have 9.8% chance of winning the championship.

3.  Utah Jazz 10.4% Chance of Winning the West (51.8 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert

Key Reserves: Dante Exum, Royce O'Neale, Jeff GreenEmmanuel MudiayEd Davis

Update: The Jazz fell from the 1st seed in the West to the 3rd seed with Leonard and George to the Clippers and Danny Green to the Lakers. The Jazz are now projected to win 51.8 games compared to 53.6 wins previously.  

With the additions of Conley and Bogdanovic, the Jazz might have the most balanced starting 5 in the NBA. Conley is a big upgrade at the point over Ricky Rubio, and his addition had a big impact in our simulations. The Jazz jumped from 47.3 wins to 51.6 wins with Conley and then jumped from 51.6 wins to 53.6 wins after the initial wave of Free Agency. The addition of Conley could be huge for Donovan Mitchell, who can now play off the ball more. Bogdanovic averaged 18.0 PPG in Indiana a season ago and offers a scoring ability that Derrick Favors could not. The Jazz have also added depth with the additions of Ed Davis, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay. Ed Davis is a great bargain at two-years, $10 million, and Mudiay is coming off perhaps his best season since he entered the NBA. Their chances of then winning the West is 22% and they have 9.8% chance of winning the championship. 

4.  Houston Rockets (Updated) 8.6% Chance of Winning the West (49.8 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

UPDATE 7/11/19: The Rockets traded CP3 for Russell Westbrook. The Rockets now have two ball dominate guards with Russ and James Harden. Chris Paul and James Harden's relationship deteriorated quickly, and it will be interesting to see how Russ and Harden get along. Our projections have the Rockets getting slightly worth with Russ, going from 50.1 projected wins to 49.8.

Projected Starters: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela

Key Reserves: Gerald Green, Danuel House, Austin Rivers

Update: The Rockets fell from 51.0 projected wins to 50.1 projected wins and from a 14.1% to a 9.5% chance of winning the West.

The Rockets have had a drama filled offseason. Chris Paul and James Harden are rumored to be avoiding each other, and then the Rockets were unable to land Houston native Jimmy Butler in Free Agency. The Rockets lack depth and roster flexibility after giving out monster contracts to Chris Paul and Clint Capela. However, as long as James Harden is on this team, the Rockets will have the ability to make a deep run. They have a 54.5% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have a 28.1% chance of getting past round 2, their chances of then winning the West is 14.1%, and they have 5.6% chance of winning the championship.

5.  Denver Nuggets 9.3% Chance of Winning the West (49.7 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap/Jerami Grant, Nikola Jokic

Key Reserves: Monte Morris, Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig, Michael Porter Jr., Mason Plumlee, Bol Bol

Update: The Nuggets are now projected to win 49.7 games compared to 50.1 games previously. They have a 9.3% chance of winning the West which is down from 16.3%.

The Nuggets were one win away from making the Western Conference Finals a season ago and bring back their same roster. The Nuggets took a risk drafting Michael Porter Jr. 14th overall in the 2018 NBA Draft, who missed his entire rookie season due to injury, and apparently Porter Jr. has been impressing team officials. The Nuggets went ahead and took another flyer selecting Bol Bol at #44 in the 2019 NBA Draft. Don't be surprised if Bol takes the season off like Porter Jr. did last season in order to get healthy and gain weight. This Nuggets roster is one of the more complete rosters in the NBA. Jokic is an MVP candidate and Jamal Murray is a rising star. By keeping Paul Millsap, the Nuggets will look to build on their success from last season. With the moves that the Lakers and Jazz made, they are only projected to finish 4th in the West next season, but the gap between #1 and #5 is less than 5 wins. They have a 54.3% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have a 30% chance of getting past round 2. Their chances of then winning the West is 16.3%. They have 6% chance of winning the championship. 

6.  Golden State Warriors 8.0% Chance of Winning the West (45.9 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Steph Curry, D'Angelo Russell, Alfonzo McKinnie/Klay Thompson*, Draymond Green, Kevon Looney

*Klay Thompson will likely miss half the season with a torn ACL

Key Reserves: Willie Cauley-SteinJordan Poole, Jacob Evans, Eric Paschall

Update: The Warriors are now projected to win 48.7 games which is up from 45.9 games previously. They have a 19.8% chance of winning the West which is up from 8.0% and the second best odds in the West. This has a lot to do with the projected midseason return of Klay Thompson. The Warriors leap the Trail Blazers for 6th in the West.

7.  Oklahoma City Thunder (Updated) 0.8% Chance of Winning the West (46.1 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

UPDATE 7/11/19: Russell Westbrook and Jerami Grant have both been traded as the Thunder look to rebuild. The Thunder have actually improved by 4.7 wins!!! by trading Russ for CP3 and jumped from the #9 seed to #7 seed in the West. Their playoff % jumped from 38.8% to 75.9%, and increase of 37.1%. Our models show Chris Paul's ability to ability to help the Thunder with his ability to distribute the ball despite the fact that he's not getting any younger.Chris Paul should fit a lot better with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander than Russ would.

Projected Starters: Chris PaulShai Gilgeous-Alexander, Terrance Ferguson, Danillo Gallinari, Steven Adams

Key Reserves: Dennis Schroder, Terrance Ferguson, Andre Roberson, Hamidou Diallo, Darius BazleyMike Muscala, Nerlens Noel

Update: The Thunder look like they are about to enter a rebuilding mode after trading Paul George to the Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and five future 1st-rounders. There are also several rumors that the Thunder my be willing to trade Russell Westbrook as well. The Thunder fall from 6th in the West to 9th, while also going from 48.8 projected wins to 41.6 projected wins. 

The Thunder bring back their entire starting lineup returns from a season ago, including Paul George who had an incredibly season. Russell Westbrook is a triple-double machine but has become incredibly inefficient. Terrance Ferguson and Jerami Grant are emerging young talents that could have important roles if the Thunder are going to make it far. The Thunder have an affinity for talented yet raw players and have taken three players that fit that mold in the last three drafts in Ferguson, Hamidou Diallo, and Darius Bazley. I am not quite sure if Diallo or Bazley will have any sort of impact this season. Andre Roberson should return after missing the last season and a half after tearing his patellar tendon. I like the addition of Mike Muscala in Free Agency and think he can find a role in Billy Donovan's offense. The Thunder are projected to win 48 and are one of 7 potential teams with a legit shot to win the West. They have a 44.1% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have a 19.5% chance of getting past round 2. If they do manage to beat the odds and advance past round 2, their chances of winning the West is 8.5%. They have 2.3% chance of winning the championship

8.  Portland Trail Blazers 2.5% Chance of Winning the West (45.7 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Rodney Hood, Zach Collins, Hassan Whiteside/ Jusuf Nurkic*

Key Reserves: Anfernee Simons, Kent BazemoreNassir Little

*Nurkic is likely to miss part of the season with a leg injury

Update: The Trail Blazers are now projected to win 45.4 games compared to 46.0 games previously. They have a 2.5% chance of winning the West which is down from 5.6%. The Trail Blazers were also leapfrogged by the Warriors for the 6th seed and are currently projected to be the 7th seed.

The Trail Blazers made the Western Conference Finals a season ago and bring back their best players in Lillard and McCollum. The Blazers lose Mo Harkless, Meyers Leonard, and Al Farouq-Aminu, and Evan Turner but bring in Kent Bazemore, Nassir Little, and Hassan Whiteside. PG Anfernee Simons has been drawing rave reviews from Damian Lillard and is a breakout player to watch along with third-year player Zach Collins. Whiteside should fill in for Nurkic while Nurkic recovers from his awful leg injury. Portland has dropped from a projected 4 Seed immediately at the end of the last season to a 6 seed as the Lakers, Jazz have leapfrogged them. They have a 31.9% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have a 13.5% chance of getting past round 2. If they do manage to beat the odds and advance past round 2, their chances of winning the West is 5.6%. They have 1.5% chance of winning the championship. 

9.  San Antonio Spurs 0.6% Chance of Winning the West (41.8 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: DeJounte Murray, Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge

Key Reserves: Patty Mills, Bryn Forbes, Jakob Poeltl, Marco Belinelli, Lonnie Walker, Keldon Johnson, DeMarre Carroll, Luka Samanic, Quinndary Weatherspoon

Update: The Spurs are now projected to win 41.8 wins compared to 45.4 wins previously. The Spurs have a 0.6% chance of winning the West which is down from 4.3%.

This is a very deep Spurs' roster with a mix of seasoned veterans and young talent. Aldridge is getting older and on the final year of his contract, and it will be interesting to see what the Spurs do with DeMar DeRozan. The starting lineup is solid but shouldn't be very scary to opposing teams. Derrick White began to emerge as a legitimate scoring threat, and DeJounte Murray looked primed to have a breakout year before he tore his ACL. The Spurs have added Lonnie Walker, Keldon Johnson, and Luka Samanic in the first-round in the last two NBA Drafts and will look to get some production from them. The Spurs also landed Q Weatherspoon in the second-round this year, and I think he could surprise some people and eventually have a role with this team. They have a 29.7% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have an 11.2% chance of getting past round 2. If they do manage to beat the odds and advance past round 2, their chances of winning the West is 4.3%. While not mathematically eliminated they are winning the championship in under 0.1% of simulations.

10. Dallas Mavericks 0.5% Chance of Winning the West (41.6 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr., Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell

Key Reserves: Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Boban Marjanovic

Update: The Mavericks are now project to win 41.6 games which is up from 37.1 games previously. They have a 0.5% chance of winning the West which is up from 0.1%.

The Mavericks are still a couple years away from contending but have two potential franchise players in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavs signed Porzingis, who missed all of last season recoveringfrom a torn ACL, to a five-year max contract. Porzingis looked to be the future of the Knicks before his injury and subsequent trade demand. Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic and Porzingis should be a fun pairing to watch.  They have a 1.9% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have a 0.6% chance of getting past round 2. If they do manage to beat the odds and advance past round 2, their chances of winning the West is 0.1%. While not mathematically eliminated they are winning the championship in under 0.1% of simulations. 

11.  New Orleans Pelicans 0.2% Chance of Winning the West (39.7 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Jrue Holiday, J.J. ReddickBrandon IngramZion WilliamsonDerrick Favors

Key Reserves: Lonzo BallJosh Hart, Jahlil Okafor, Jaxson Hayes, E'Twaun Moore, Frank Jackson, Darius Miller, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kenrich Williams

Update: The Pelicans' odds of winning the West remain the same at 0.2%. They are now projected to win 39.7 games after previously projected to win 38.0.

The Pelicans have gone from 25.3 projected wins before the draft to 38.0 wins now. It's amazing what David Griffin has been able to do turning this roster around. The Pelicans got a little luck winning the lottery and getting Zion, and then they flipped Anthony Davis for Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, and the 4th overall pick (which they turned into a slew of picks). The Pelicans added J.J. Reddick and Derrick Favors in Free Agency, jumping them from 34.3 projected wins to 38.0. They have a 3.2% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have a 0.8% chance of getting past round 2. If they do manage to beat the odds and advance past round 2, their chances of winning the West is 0.2%. While not mathematically eliminated they are winning the championship in under 0.1% of simulations. 

12.   Sacramento Kings 0.1% Chance of Winning the West (37.7 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley, Dwayne Dedmon

Key Reserves: Corey Joseph, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Trevor Ariza, Nemanja Bjelica, Richaun Holmes, Harry Giles

Update: The Kings are now projected to win 36.4 games which is down from 37.7 wins previously. The Kings now have a 0.0% chance of winning the West according to our simulations which is down from 0.1%.

Not surprisingly, the Kings were unable to land any big-name Free Agents. The Kings were rumored to be making a run at Al Horford but had to settle for Dwayne Dedmon instead. I think Dedmon is a much better fit next to Bagley than Cauley-Stein was last season, but he is still a huge step down from Horford.The Kings were able to re-sign Harrison Barnes to a pretty large contract, and Ariza and Corey Joseph were brought in to add some depth. Fox, Hield, Bagley, and Bogdanovic are players that you can build around. They have a 2.7% chance of getting past the first round of the playoffs. They have a 0.7% chance of getting past round 2. If they do manage to beat the odds and advance past round 2, their chances of winning the West is 0.1%. While not mathematically eliminated, they are winning the championship in under 0.1% of simulations.

13.   Memphis Grizzlies 0.0% Chance of Winning the West (32.2 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Ja MorantAndre IguodalaJosh Jackson, Jaren Jackson, Jonas Valanciunas

Key Reserves: Grayson AllenBrandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Bruno Caboclo

Update: The Grizzlies traded CJ Miles, Kyle Korver, and Chandler Parsons in the last week. They also released Avery Bradley and are likely to release Dwight Howard, whom they acquired in the CJ Miles trade. Andre Iguodala is likely to be next on the move. They acquired Josh Jackson from the Suns, and he looks to hit the restart button in Memphis. The Grizzlies are projected to win 32.2 games which is down from 33.8 games previously.

The Grizzlies have so many question marks regarding their roster. They are likely to release or trade Avery Bradley and Kyle Korver. Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala are also potential trade chips for the Grizzlies. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson is a solid start for the Grizzlies to build around. These two young players have star potential. Grayson Allen, Brandon Clarke, and Dillon Brooks are solid depth pieces. I want to see Bruno Caboclo make this roster. Caboclo was a former draft bust by the Toronto Raptors but had a few good games for the Grizzlies at the end of last year. They are not playoff contenders based on our latest simulations.

14.   Minnesota Timberwolves 0.0% Chance of Winning the West (33.0 Projected Wins)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Josh Okogie, Robert Covington, Karl-Anthony Towns

Key Reserves: Jarrett Culver, Gorgui Deng, Noah VonlehJordan Bell

Update: The Timberwolves are now projected only 25.2 wins after previously being projected to win 33.0 games. They still have a 0.0% chance of winning the West in our projections/

The outlook is bleak for a once very promising Timberwolves team. Wiggins does not look like the player that many thought he would be but is playing on a max contract that is extremely hard to move. The T-Wolves were trying to land a deal with D'Angelo Russell, but Russell is headed to Golden State instead. I like that Minnesota packaged Dario Saric and the 11th pick to move up and get Jarrett Culver in the draft. With all the moves being made in the West the Timberwolves are only projected to win 33 games and are the worst team in the West outside of Phoenix. Our simulations give them a very slim chance of making the playoffs. 

15.   Phoenix Suns 0.0% Chance of Winning the West (23.7)

(Additions in Bold)

Projected Starters: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre*, Dario Saric, DeAndre Ayton

Key Reserves: Mikal Bridges, Jevon CarterAron BaynesCameron JohnsonTy Jerome, Tyler Johnson, Elie Okobo

Update: The Suns are now projected to win 23.7 games which is up from the 18.2 wins that they were previously projected. They still sit at last in the West and have a 0.0% chance of winning the West.

I don't really get any of the Suns' offseason moves. It looked like the Suns could've moved some pieces to clear the cap space needed to make a run for D'Angelo Russell, but they went in a whole different direction. The Suns moved back from 6th to 11th in the draft and selected Cameron Johnson who many saw as a late first-round choice. The Suns picked up Dario Saric in that trade, but I'd rather have Jarrett Culver than Cam Johnson and Saric. The Suns also went out and signed Ricky Rubio, who makes them a worse team according to our simulations. Booker is a great young player and Ayton could be, but I don't think that they are in position to win games yet. I do think that the Suns will re-sign Oubre. Our simulations give them a very little chance of making the playoffs.