In my opinion, the Mavericks ceiling is #3 in the West.
I know that's crazy.
I don't think it's likely.
But on the other side of insane homerism, which this is , the major mistake that NBA prognosticators make is a failure to think for themselves. Consensus is a powerful beast, with many tongues. And it feels a lot better about the Thunder than I do.
I mean, honestly, if Durant averages anywhere close to the insane 31-9-6-1.3 he averaged in the playoffs last year, leading the Thunder in every category except blocks, my thoughts on them are going to look pretty silly.
But, you could ask yourself, Westbrook injury or no Westbrook injury, just why KD had to lead the Thunder in EVERY category in the playoffs (besides blocks). And the answer is, I look at this team, and I see, beyond the best one and two punch in the NBA....nothing.
You know what the Thunder did this offseason? Lost the only other player on their team who scored more than 7.6 points last year, traded Eric Maynor, and signed Derek Fisher. And I say---is the best one-two punch in the league so much better than all other Western Conference teams by themselves that continuity, one big upside guy in Serge Ibaka, and some solid role players like Nick Collison, Reggie Jackson, and Thabo are actually better than the immense, the powerful, the unbelievably talented West?
The point is, before I see them on the court, I know the Clips and the Spurs are better than the Mavs. I don't know anyone else is. The Thunder, Memphis and the Rockets PROBABLY are, but I don't know.
And before you say you do, take a look at the playoff predictions from last year, from some of the big names in basketball . Everyone knew the Spurs were worse than the Thunder or the Lakers by a combined 12-7. Because the Spurs were old, because they'd passed the torch, because despite winning ten playoff games in a row the previous year, narrative is stronger than reality and the Spurs lost, 12-7, last year, to narrative.
When I jump out of the "I know the Thunder are pretty close to the best team in the West" narrative, I see, Durant-Westbrook-Sefolosha-Ibaka-Perkins followed by Jackson, Collison, Fisher, Brewer, some Ligginses, some Ortons, some Joneses. Maybe Jeremy Lamb busts out. Maybe Steven Adams is primetime ready.
They're going to do it; they'll prove me wrong. But that's happened before.
Memphis is a weird team. When I look at them, I sometimes think they're the best team in the West. With Gasol and Randolph, you can't score on them and they can score on you. With Conley and Allen, you have a crazy two-way back court.
And yet the Grizz have always been...mortal, haven't they? Maybe Leuer and Miller are the answer. Maybe whoever Willie Reed is, he'll get injured and then inspire us all coming back from it early. But then again, smart as it probably was to divest from Mayo and Gay, it has left them pretty short on the scoring end, hasn't it?
I think the Warriors, especially with a healthy Bogut are almost certainly better than the Mavs; in fact, with Iggy, a healthy Bogut and Lee, and another year of Harrison Barnes, they're my sleeper pick to win the West. So maybe what I mean is that the Mavs' absolute ceiling is the fourth seed. But then again, what's built on Curry's Ankle, Bogut and Lee's everything...is built on sand. Also, check out the picture of Jermaine O'Neal they included here =
The Rockets? Well, they added Dwight Howard and that would seem to sew that up. But in a whole lot of ways, the Mavs were actually better than the Rockets last year. Beat them 3 out of 4, had a better winning percentage in March and April (I mean, technically. 16-9 to 14-9). I think the Mavs are a lot better than they were last year, and while the Rockets could be way better than they were, are they definitely going to be? I mean, Dwight has to show us something, after last year, right?
I mean, one of the things about the Rockets is that if you figure their three best players last year were Harden, Parsons and Asik and while a Howard-Asik rotatin is IMMENSE defensively, it's not a great idea to make your third best player or second best player or whatever redundant. Is it?
And I know that NBA fans love young talent over old talent, new stories over old stories, but that doesn't mean I actually think Minny, Portland, or New Orleans are going to be any good.
So, yeah. If you go with Definitely Better than the Mavericks, you've got San Antonio and LAC and Almost Certainly Better Than the Mavericks will add you OKC and Golden State. So I say ceiling, 3, ceiling of REASONABLE OPTIMISM, 5.
I can't predict the Lakers or the Nuggets. But if the Mavs have really taken a step forward, I'll bet they finish ahead.
I mean, I won't bet much....