Western Conference 2021-2021 NBA preview

Abdul Al-Arshani and Brendan Kelly

The 2020-2021 National Basketball Association(NBA) season is set to start on December 22, and there is a lot of buzz around the league, with multiple star players signing with different teams. Teams around the league are making changes to their rosters and doing what they can to improve from last season. Let’s take a look at the upcoming seasons strongest contenders from the Western Conference.

The Los Angeles Lakers were 2020 NBA champions and during the offseason got even better. Led by stars Lebron James and Anthony Davis, who are certain to return, the Lakers seem poised to make another title run. During the offseason, the Lakers added Montrezl Harrell, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Schroder, and Marc Gasol. Harrell was the sixth man of the year and you add him to the reigning champs, that’s a huge addition to an already elite team. Not to mention Dennis Schroeder was the runner up to the sixth man of the year. Schroder and Harrell would be very good starters on many teams in the league, and the Lakers have both. Matthews was a good addition for the Lakers as he is an above-average shooter and helps space the floor for what was a team lacking in spacing last season. Gasol is out of his prime and looks to serve the same purpose as Matthews. Barring any surprises or major injuries, the Lakers are likely to repeat as champions.

As for the other contenders in the West, the Denver Nuggets overcame a 3-1 deficit twice in the playoffs and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals (WCF) before losing in 5 games to the eventual champion Lakers. The team will look to make another deep playoff run led by rising superstars in Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets are one of the best offensive teams in the league however, the Nuggets did lose 3 key role players and defenders. Jeremi Grant, Mason Plumlee, and Torrey Craig all signed with other teams during the offseason. Arguably Denver’s 3 best defenders, the team must fill their spots with good defenders in order to seriously compete with the Lakers whose bigs torched the nuggets in the WCF.

The Los Angeles Clippers, despite being disappointing last year, blowing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the Semis last season, are still contenders. They still have the 2019 finals MVP and 2 time Defensive Player of the Year in Kawhi Leonard, widely considered a top 5 player in the league. They also have Paul George, who despite getting hate for his underwhelming playoff performance, is still an All-Star level player and was an MVP candidate just 2 seasons ago. The Clippers also added Serge Ibaka on a good deal which will be a huge help to them at the power forward and center positions. Expect this team to be in the 2-4 range seeding wise and to most likely to make a deep playoff run.

The Phoenix Suns after finishing 8-0 in the bubble, last season and missing the playoffs by 1 game are finally looking like a playoff team. Devin Booker is tired of going home early and is playing at an elite level. With a major addition of Chris Paul, who last season proved he was still a top point guard in the league, the Suns have the talent to compete. The #1 pick in 2018 Deandra Ayton is improving and a breakout year would not be surprising, especially playing with Chris Paul.

The Pelicans are looking real good going into the season. With forward Brandon Ingram looking like a real star and Lonzo Ball continuing to develop New Orleans, is on the come up. The #1 pick in last year’s draft Zion Williamson will be looking to play his first full season. The Pelicans are stacked with good young talent and could very well be in the middle of the playoff picture.

The Minnesota Timberwolves were really underwhelming last season going 19-45 and finishing with the second-worst record in the West. However with a healthy D’Angelo Rusell and Karl Anthony Towns paired with the #1 overall pick this year in Anthony Edwards, Minnesota has the talent to push for a playoff spot. Towns and Russel are legitimate all-star level players and if they pair well together could put a real fight for the 8th seed.

The NBA is in for a fun year. The Western Conference has a lot of good competition for the first time in several years. Many teams will be fighting for a playoff spot. Talent is spread out across the league. Compared to the previous few years, we don’t know who will be in the finals. It’s anyone’s trophy. Can KD and the Nets make a serious finals run? Will the Clippers break their second-round curse and oust the Lakers? These questions are big unknowns. It will certainly be interesting to see how this season unfolds.