Simply Ballin’s 2023–24 West Predictions & Rankings

Simply Ballin
15 min readOct 21, 2023

It’s my favorite time of the year before the NBA season starts. And that’s because of all the predictions heading into the new season.

This is the perfect time to get everything out so that once the season is over you can see how well you were right(or wrong) on a whole bunch of things. That’s always pretty fun to me, especially when the predictions are wildly different.

So, for this week, there will be a whole bunch of predictions — conference standings, team tiers based on the playoffs, awards, and any other predictions at the end.

Standing Predictions

First, we have the standings predictions. This isn’t who’s the better team or who’s more likely to win a championship. Regular season success is entirely different to what could be expected in the playoffs. There will be certain teams that may be ranked either much higher or much lower in the regular season but also be viewed differently once the playoffs come around. A team can be ahead of a team but have a lower playoff ceiling and vice versa.

  • Denver Nuggets(1–3 range)
  • Memphis Grizzlies(1–4)
  • Phoenix Suns(1–4)
  • Golden State Warriors(3–6)
  • Los Angeles Lakers(2–6)
  • Los Angeles Clippers(4–8)

Top 6

  • Dallas Mavericks(6–10)
  • Minnesota Timberwolves(6–10)
  • Sacramento Kings(7–11)
  • New Orleans Pelicans(7–11)

Play in

  • Oklahoma City Thunder(10–11)
  • Houston Rockets(10–12)
  • Utah Jazz(13–15)
  • San Antonio Spurs(13–15)
  • Portland Trail Blazers(13–15)

Tiers

Clear favorites: Nuggets

This is a tier dedicated to the best of the best. I think these teams have done enough to separate themselves from the rest and are the clear favorites to win a championship. They pretty much check all the boxes that you’d want from a contender, have the fewest questions, and have the biggest margin of error.

The reigning champions are in their own tier — I’d probably have them as the favorites in general too.

They are the clearest team in the league to me. They have the clear best player in Nikola Jokic(and at this point, I don’t know if it’s even close) and that alone is a huge game-changer. Having that type of best player where they are both one of the best floor and ceiling raisers does a lot for a team. And that’s not taking into consideration that this best player is one of the greatest offensive players that makes everyone else better too.

Outside of Jokic, this is a very good team too. A great number two in Jamal Murray that fits perfectly with Jokic. Three key players who are one of the best in their role in Michael Porter Jr, Aaron Gordon, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. This is just a well-rounded team that should be the favorite to win.

And what’s encouraging is THIS TEAM CAN STILL GET BETTER. I don’t think Jokic is getting better. That’s for sure not the case for Murray or Porter Jr. And that doesn’t include the bunch of other young players that they have.

With the best offense in the league and how they showed they can have a great defense in the playoffs, at this moment, it’s tough to see anyone in the West beating them.

Top tier contenders: Suns, Warriors, Lakers

A slightly lower tier than the favorites. They’re still legitimate contenders and check a lot of the boxes, BUT they have a couple more question marks or concerns. It shouldn’t be a significant issue to drop them lower but that does prevent them from being separated from the rest.

I think these teams belong together and are ahead of the others, but at the same time, I don’t know if they match my usual definition of this tier. With all these teams, there are some big questions that need to be answered and for some, it may be harder to do so.

The Suns have formed a big three. I don’t know if that works in 2023 anymore. Especially with how other teams are constructed, I don’t know if you can go all in on that top-end talent whilst trading everyone away — I am in a camp where I think depth is overrated but there is a limit to it.

But even with their three stars in Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal, there are a lot of questions surrounding them and how this is going to work. I don’t mean in a way where it’s one ball-type issue, but more about how is it going to work with all three working in a similar way for similar shots. It feels like they all do similar things with similar strengths and weaknesses.

Also, I don’t see how the Beal trade helps them in the things that caused issues last year. This team didn’t lose because of offense. They didn’t lose because they needed more self-creation. They didn’t lose because they needed more hoopers taking hooper’s shots. They shot way above what a team that’s great would shoot from anywhere on the floor and still lost easily to the Nuggets.

Their defense is a big concern and I don’t know if their offense can make that up. Look what it took for them to beat the Los Angeles Clippers(who were without both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George). They needed a historic performance from Booker to have a 128 offense to offset them having a terrible defense. If that’s the type of offense that they need to have a chance is concerning and probably not sustainable.

The Warriors also made a big change by trading for Chris Paul. That changes a lot. If there’s a player that’s the complete opposite of what a team does, it’s Paul and the Warriors. It’s the pace, the off-ball movement, and not running as many PnRs. All of that is different with Paul. That’s going to take some time to get used to and trying to see how the changes will pan out.

I am optimistic about this. A change doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. I see Paul giving them more versatility and options on offense. They can attack in different ways — their usual Warriors approach or turn into a Paul running the show with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as spacers running around. There are valid concerns and questions when it comes to this change on offense and it could easily backfire, but this is just something that we have to wait and see.

What’s more of an issue is their defense. That’s how they won in 2022 and that has slipped significantly in the last year. That’s not getting better by inserting Paul into the lineup. That’s another player you also need to hide — even more so than anyone else. That gives the opponent another option to hunt and at this stage of Paul’s career, his offensive impact might not be enough to negate that.

Their ceiling to win a championship lies in their ability to get that defense up to the standard that they need it to be. That puts a lot of pressure on Draymond Green.

With the Warriors, this is also a benefit-of-a-doubt type of ranking. A trio with Curry, Thompson, and Green has won so much and has been so successful on the court — even last year that trio was elite with the net rating in both the regular season and the playoffs — it’s hard to bet against them until it’s fully over. Especially with Curry. HE definitely has earned that right. He’s reached the LeBron James status where if he’s healthy, that team has a chance.

Finally, we have the Lakers. This might be premature or too high on them but I do like what they’ve done. The Lakers pre and post-deadline are two completely different teams. There’s no point in seeing that they were a play-in team. This team was the best defense post-deadline. This team had a great turnaround. This team reached the conference finals. And they got better.

They made more moves to add more shooting and get better around the margins. They brought solid players to help their weaknesses. There’s likely to be leaps and growth from young players, such as Austin Reaves, who was HOOPING after the deadline.

I do want to see this team over the entire season. Having a bigger sample is needed and I can see why they could be in a lower seed until that happens. But my biggest question is surprisingly James. He’s old, even for his standards. There’s been a decline in play. He doesn’t have the gas to be James throughout the season. And the playoffs kind of showed that he may not have the extra gear anymore — his fourth-quarter stats dropped off. But it’s been 20 years. If there’s a player that I still won’t go against it’s him.

High ceiling, but a lot has to go right: Grizzlies, Clippers

This is a similar tier except these teams need a lot more to go right. They may have had a deep playoff run in the past or their ceiling is clearly that but there are either more questions needing to still be answered or even in a perfect world, they have a lower margin of error. One thing that also stops them from being in the upper tier is they may go on a deep run but may not entirely have a realistic chance at a title.

I’m high on the Grizzlies and I can see them possibly getting up a tier. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a top-3 record in the league. I don’t see a reason why they should drop off significantly, even with Ja Morant’s suspension.

This is a very good team. There’s a reason why they had the second-best record in the West and the third-best net rating overall. They had the second-best defense for the year even though Steven Adams played half the season. Bringing him back healthy alone changes a lot — they had a plus 9.8 net in 1133 minutes with a 120.9 offense. That dropped to a mere plus 1.5 without him.

They’re going to be elite defensively and that is likely the reason why they’ll be able to hold down the fort until Morant comes back.

But even outside of that, THIS IS STILL A GOOD TEAM! Desmond Bane is great and I expect a good leap from him. His numbers without Morant already have been great and I see no reason why that won’t continue as he gets better. They also added Marcus Smart who’s going to add additional ball handling, and passing, and make that defense even better. Smart also seems perfect for this team. They will have Luke Kennard for the entire year with his elite shooting. And then you have a bunch of wings such as Santi Aldama and Xavier Tillman. This is a great all-around team.

And you obviously have Jaren Jackson Jr, who is going to do a lot on defense as we all know. This team is built on defense. And him with Adams was one of the best defenses in the regular season. But it’s his offensive jump that I’m looking forward to and one of the reasons why they’re in this tier. He’s improved significantly on that end already. Making a jump in his scoring, and efficiency made a LEAP(he improved his 2pt% by over 10%), and he showed even more flashes in the playoffs.

And it’s that leap on offense that matters. We know what we’re going to get from the Grizzlies on defense, even in the playoffs where that wasn’t an issue. The issue for them was the half-court offense. That’s where both Bane and Jackson come in.

In 21 games without Morant:

  • Bane: 23 points per 75 poss on 54% eFG and 58% TS
  • Jackson: 25 points on 55% and 59%

This is the firepower that they will need from everyone. And when Morant gets back, everything should be better. He’s one of the best slashers in the league and has improved a lot as a passer too. There are concerns with his game in the half-court setting. His scoring and efficiency have dropped. His finishing around the rim and the paint hasn’t been ideal. I have doubts about having Morant as your best player and winning but not on this team. This is a well-constructed team that fills holes everywhere else by committee. Morant may not be a top 15 player to me but I honestly don’t think it will matter if everything falls right.

Next, we have the Clippers. In a perfect world, they’re not in this tier because everyone is healthy and we’ve seen what everyone can do. Because for the past three playoffs, the Clippers are just in theory and on paper. After the bubble, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have played 363 minutes together in the playoffs. That’s just 11 games.

Their biggest question is 100% health. Because in those 11 games, they were plus 6.7 with a 122.7 offense — and that’s not counting the minutes they were both on.

However, I also feel like there are some questions with a few areas too. There has been some slippage on defense from the Clippers lately. They haven’t been as elite as they were in the first couple of seasons.

In the end, with Leonard still showing how elite he was when he played (and I don’t expect a big dropoff in his play), it’s hard not to have them in this tier. Leonard raises this team’s ceiling a lot and that’s just him. Now add George and the rest of the team, this team can easily contend. The only question, as always, is health.

Playoffs, but 2nd round at best: Mavericks, Wolves, Pelicans, Kings

This is the first tier I can’t entirely see them making a push to contend for a title. It could be a team being too young, top-end talent needing more help, or not a good enough #1. Some of these teams are just a year too early or need that one piece to give them that jump. But given the implication of a play-in, some of these teams can also miss the playoffs as they battle one another there.

This is where it becomes a mess. All of these teams I can see making the second round… but any of these teams could also miss the playoffs. That’s the beauty of the play-in, where anything can happen.

I have the Kings as the worst team of the bunch. They had their surprise! year and now I think it’s time to fall back to earth in a way. I don’t think their offense will be as elite as it was last year and we saw their offense not be as elite in the playoffs too.

I feel like the year after the jump isn’t always going to result in a similar year. Just because they had a great season last year, it doesn’t mean that will necessarily continue, especially when they’re a still relatively young team. And mainly because of their age, I just don’t see them being good enough yet to make any significant run. That’s also not considering that their star players didn’t have that of a special run either.

The Pelicans, are similar to the Clippers. They are a big unknown. I have no idea what to make of them. They have a superstar talent in Zion Williamson but he’s less healthier than Leonard!

They were good when he played but that’s a very small sample. And when there’s such a small sample, none of the net ratings matter as much. There is no evidence to show that it will continue or not. You can’t make any conclusions — whether it’s positive or not. Because of that, we don’t know what this team is. This is the first time they had a positive net rating. Their offense has been dropping each year but their defense suddenly became sixth best? And that’s with guys missing time. IT’S TOUGH TO MAKE ANY PREDICTIONS BASED ON NOTHING.

But even ignoring that, I still don’t see it with this team. I don’t think Brandon Ingram is good enough to be in the primary ball-handling role as a number 1 — as Williamson would be in a different role primarily.

With everyone healthy, I can see them making it a competitive series, but they are still far away from being a legit contender or even a team capable of a deep playoff run.

The Wolves are an interesting case because they also weren’t healthy. But they made the playoffs and had a good series against the Nuggets. I feel like even with all that they went through with the addition of Rudy Gobert, Anthony Edwards having more responsibilities, trading for Mike Conley, and missing Karl Anthony Towns for so long, they have proven to have a much higher floor.

Now, with more continuity, they should be better. I’m thinking maybe they should be even higher in the standings and be in the top 6. Towns alone is going to make this team better. More chemistry with Gobert is going to be better. Edwards is going to be better(though I am not as high on his potential leap as some are). There are many things to point to them being better, but better doesn’t mean great either. They will be better, but still not enough to make a push.

And finally, we have the Mavericks. I think this is the best team out of the bench. The reason for that is Luka Doncic. They were good last year, especially on offense. A lot of their issues early on were their minutes without him where the offense died.

That’s going to be fixed with Kyrie Irving. That will certainly help the minutes without Doncic and that’s probably the difference-maker in a lot of the games.

More time with Irving also means better chemistry and better offense with Doncic. Together in 444 minutes, they already were plus 3.3 with a 121.4 offense. That duo worked and it could only get better. Based on what we saw in FIBA, we could get a slightly different Doncic.

I have no significant concerns when it comes to their offense. Their issues for me come on defense. And with the addition of Grant Williams and drafting both Dereck Lively II and Olivier-Maxence Prosper, their defense should be better. Having an actual 7fter with another defensive wing and a third taller wing should help that a lot. There could also be a jump from Josh Green. Derrick Jones Jr is also another option at the wing. They have more options now.

We know what we’re going to get from Doncic. Now, there’s also Irving to take the load off him, so that he’s not cooked in the fourth and to help survive the non-Doncic minutes. I expect that offense to be elite when making a playoff push. Everything will come down to defense.

And I think that’s what puts them in this tier. It might be better than last year, but I don’t think it’s good enough to have them reliably make a run versus some of those elite teams defensively. Thinking about it, their offense might not be perfect to make a run either.

But with hopefully a better defense with them addressing some of the offensive issues and having the best player out of these four teams, I’d be shocked if they miss the playoffs again.

Play-in mix & possibly 1st round: Rockets, Thunder,

These are your first round exit teams at best, if they even make the play-in. They’re likely only making the playoffs because of the play-in and are probably just happy to be there. That’s the difference, as technically the upper teams could miss the playoffs because of the play-in their ceiling is higher than these but not good enough to be a playoff lock.

I like what the Rockets have done in the off-season with bringing in Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks. That needed some veteran presence. It’s not ideal to always just have a team full of young players, especially if there’s not much progress on the court. With Ime Udoka too, there could be many changes in how they play. Combine that with the young core’s development and the veterans leading the way, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a jump that possibly could be entering the play-in range.

I’m putting the Thunder in this tier because I don’t see them at all in making any playoff series competitive. They have the guy in Shai Gilgeous Alexander, who’s a clear top-20 guy now. They have a great young core that should all be getting better in Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams. And most importantly, they have Chet Holmgren coming back, which could be a game-changer and I wouldn’t be surprised if that addition is enough to put them higher in the standings. But that’s the standings. When it comes to the playoffs, I think they’re just a year too early.

Most likely in the lottery: Spurs, Blazers, Jazz

Right at the bottom, you have the lottery teams. That’s their ceiling and are most likely not good enough to make a play-in push or may not even want to do so.

After their fun run to start the year, the Jazz weren’t the same as they were before trading all of the veterans. They were a surprise team last year, but I don’t expect that to be the case this year. And a lot of that has to do with their overall team. Lauri Markkanen is great, but he’s not a number one option that translates to being a floor raiser. Outside of him, what is the team that would make it likely that they’ll even win?

This is similar to the Blazers. I like their core that they have Scoot Henderson, Deandre Ayton, Robert Williams, and Anfernee Simons. But is that a core that will result in a bunch of wins? The focus won’t even be on that, which it also shouldn’t. This is a rebuilding team that’s in the first year and I don’t see any chance with them leaping the teams above.

The Spurs are an interesting case depending on how high you value Victor Wembanyama, because that’s all that really matters. I don’t think this team is close to being good enough to make a play-in push. But there are players that could be capable of such floor-raising ability. That is a lot of pressure on Victor and not something that I think it’s likely to happen, but that would be the only way for the Spurs to have a chance being towards the top of this tier.

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