There is no shortage of storylines in the NBA’s Western Conference heading into the 2022-23 season.
And, as is tradition, let’s start in Los Angeles.
LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers are back to improve on an injury- and drama-filled season that resulted in a failed run to the West’s final play-in spot. But after featuring a bevy of veteran role players in 2022-23, the franchise has skewed much younger this offseason as it pursues a bounce-back campaign.
Is Phoenix projected to repeat as the West’s No. 1 seed? Will the Lakers re-enter the playoff picture? Which teams are still tanking?
Our expert panel is predicting the win-loss records for all 15 teams in the West.
Note: Our 2022-23 NBA Summer Forecast will continue Wednesday with our predictions for East, West and NBA champions.
Western Conference standings
1. Phoenix Suns: 56-26
2. Golden State Warriors: 55-27
3. Denver Nuggets: 53-29
4. Memphis Grizzlies: 51-31
5. LA Clippers: 50-32
6. Dallas Mavericks: 49-33
Despite winning the title last season and presumably starting next season with a fully healthy roster for the first time in three years, the defending champs aren’t the ESPN Summer Forecast favorites to have the West’s best regular season record in 2022-23.
But that’s not to say there aren’t great things ahead for Golden State. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will play their first complete season together in three years. Andrew Wiggins, Kevon Looney and Jordan Poole will continue to build on their careers. James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody will have bigger opportunities to grow. If anything, the Warriors should be on track to make another deep push in the postseason and have a successful regular season on their way there.
However, it’s the Suns who we picked to repeat as the West’s No. 1 seed.
Sure, Phoenix is coming off a surprising second-round meltdown to the Mavericks. And they didn’t make any major roster additions over the summer. Frankly, they probably don’t need any. They need Chris Paul to be healthy, Devin Booker to play at an MVP-caliber level and for any animosity between Deandre Ayton and the franchise to be erased.
The Nuggets, who will finally have two of their most important players back, are projected to finish third. Jamal Murray missed the last season and a half recovering from an ACL tear and Michael Porter Jr. was sidelined with another back injury as the Nuggets failed to capitalize on a second straight MVP season for Nikola Jokic.
The Grizzlies, who became the NBA’s ultimate dark horse last year as the West’s No. 2 seed, won’t necessarily have a harder time next season because of anything they’ve done, but because the conference will be better overall as teams such as Denver and the LA Clippers get healthy.
Dallas’ offseason was highlighted by losing free agent guard Jalen Brunson, though they did add Christian Wood, Jaden Hardy and JaVale McGee. They’re banking on Luka Doncic to have another stellar season, but it’s clear he needs help — something coach Jason Kidd stressed during Dallas’ run to the West finals.
— Kendra Andrews
The play-in group
7. Minnesota Timberwolves: 49-33
8. New Orleans Pelicans: 43-39
9. Los Angeles Lakers: 42-40
10. Portland Trail Blazers: 35-47
Note: Dallas finished percentage points ahead of Minnesota in our panel’s projections.
The Timberwolves were the closest team to breaking into the top group as they had a shared predicted record with the Mavericks. The panel was high on Minnesota overall but ultimately viewed that the Rudy Gobert trade and his pairing with Karl-Anthony Towns will only result in three more wins for Minnesota, which went 46-36 a year ago and grabbed the No. 7 seed. With this prediction, the Timberwolves pick up a few more wins, but the seeding stays the same.
While coach Chris Finch figuring out the Gobert-Towns pairing will be key, another factor that could help the Wolves is Anthony Edwards‘ next step. The former No. 1 overall pick improved in his points, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks averages from his rookie year while boosting his shooting efficiency across the board.
New Orleans is projected to finish seven wins ahead of last year’s total — undoubtedly tied to the anticipated return of a healthy Zion Williamson. Williamson wasn’t able to play in any games last season, but New Orleans made a late charge to clinch a play-in spot and then won two games to take the No. 8 seed.
There hasn’t been any other roster movement for the Pelicans outside of adding Dyson Daniels with the No. 8 overall selection, a pick that initially belonged to the Lakers. The Summer Forecast panel believes L.A. will barely surpass .500 in 2022-23.
The Lakers stumbled to a 33-49 mark a year ago as LeBron James, Anthony Davis and a slew of other players dealt with injuries while Russell Westbrook had to shoulder much of the load — and the blame. The Lakers enter the new year with a new coach in Darvin Ham, and so far they’ve skewed much younger on their free agency additions.
Another team looking to rebound from an off year is the Portland Trail Blazers. With Damian Lillard dealing with an abdominal injury, Portland slowly let its foot off the gas before going full tilt into rebuild mode late last season.
The Trail Blazers added Jerami Grant with a future first they picked up from the CJ McCollum trade. Portland also picked up Gary Payton II in free agency. Between a healthy Lillard, Grant and the addition of No. 7 overall pick Shaedon Sharpe, the hope in Portland is that the moves equate to more than the 10-win jump the panel is predicting.
— Andrew Lopez
The bottom five
11. Sacramento Kings: 34-48
12. Utah Jazz: 26-56
13. Oklahoma City Thunder: 25-57
14. San Antonio Spurs: 24-58
15. Houston Rockets: 22-60
There’s a clear separation in the West between the teams trying to win now and those with one eye — or maybe both — on the 2023 NBA draft. Our panel has a seven-game gap in the projections between the Kings, in 11th, and the bottom four teams forecast to win 27 games or fewer.
The Rockets and Thunder are predictable members of this group in the midst of rebuilding around young talent. The Rockets (37) and Thunder (46) are two of the four teams in the NBA who have won fewer than 50 games over the past two seasons.
Although the two teams both add top-three picks (Chet Holmgren to Oklahoma City at No. 2, followed by Jabari Smith Jr. to Houston at No. 3) and a pair of other first-rounders apiece (Ousmane Dieng and Jalen Williams for the Thunder; Tari Eason and TyTy Washington Jr. for the Rockets), they’re still at least a season away from rising in the standings.
After losing in the play-in tournament the past two seasons, the Spurs signaled their intent to join Houston and Oklahoma City in pursuit of ping-pong balls by trading All-Star Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks for three future first-round picks and a swap.
Like the Rockets and Thunder, the Spurs have three rookies drafted in the first round (Malaki Branham, Jeremy Sochan and Blake Wesley). Developing them and 2021 first-round pick Joshua Primo will take center stage ahead of winning games this season.
That leaves the Kings as the one team projected outside the top 10 actively hoping to finish in that group. With Sacramento’s playoff drought (16 seasons and counting) reaching driving age, even a play-in appearance would be cause for celebration in California’s capital.
There’s reason to believe this could be the Kings’ year. They’ll get a full season with Domantas Sabonis after acquiring the two-time All-Star before the trade deadline and adding shooting in the backcourt with newcomers Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk to complement Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox. Most importantly, No. 4 overall pick Keegan Murray impressed this summer, winning MVP honors for the NBA summer league in Las Vegas.
If Sacramento jumps into the play-in and the other four teams in this group enter the lottery in prime position, it’s possible everyone could be satisfied with this season.
— Kevin Pelton