Simply Ballin


Simply Ballin's 2022-23 West Rankings

Simply Ballin's 2022-23 West Rankings

Welcome to Simply Ballin’s team predictions! I’ll be going through the West standings and putting teams in tiers(which may kind of be slightly different).

When making these predictions, I think there is a slight difference in how a team may do in the regular season and their ceiling in the playoffs. There are teams that aren’t necessarily going to deal with load management, injuries, or other external factors, which obviously means finishing with a better record. But that doesn’t always translate into the playoffs.

On the flip side, there are teams that may not go 100% in the regular season, and rest more players, but are still more equipped to make a deeper playoff run than certain great regular season teams.

Team names are linked to the team’s season preview!

Top tier Contenders: Nuggets, Warriors, Clippers

This is the tier for the top teams. They are the legit contenders that all have around the same chance at making the finals. Also, none of these teams may necessarily have success in the regular season but will be more suited for a deep playoff run.

The Golden State Warriors are the defending champs, so they are automatically in this tier. Stephen Curry has shown it again that if he’s on the court, the team is a legit contender, and I have no reason to that doubt that.

Starting from the top, they still have(at least for this year) the core of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, who is an elite trio even in 2022. Thompson should look better with more reps and Green was a defensive player caliber throughout the entire season.

Then they have plenty of key players all contributing. Andrew Wiggins was arguably the second-best player in the finals, Jordan Poole is coming off a great season and there is a potential leap there, and now they have a bunch of young guys growing and improving.

Due to age and injuries, this team may not do so well in the regular season, but this team is the one to beat in the playoffs, and are currently my team to head to the finals.

The Denver Nuggets have a real shot at the best offense in the league and the best record in the West. Per PBP, over the past two seasons, the Nuggets are 42-24 with Nikola Jokic playing but without both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. That’s a 63-win percentage without two of the top players. If Jokic can win games at a 52-win pace with him and Facu Campazzo, then it’s scary to think what he will do with better talent.

A trio of Jokic-Murray-Porter has a 126 offensive rating across two seasons, which is absurd. They also added defensive players such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Bruce Brown — this should also help Aaron Gordon. Bones Hyland is going to be the spark of the bench. This team is pretty damn good.

With Jokic being Jokic — I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a case for a third straight MVP — and now with better talent, this team is going to be elite in the regular season and have a good chance at making the finals.

Hopefully, we’ll finally see the Los Angeles Clippers fully healthy. Let’s hope this is the year we’ll see both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in full health from start to finish.

The last time we saw Leonard healthy, he was in the middle of an insane playoff run and was arguably the best player in the world. And even when he went down, the Clippers led by George took the Phoenix Suns to six games.

Now, they are again the deepest team in the league, have god knows how many wings, have a top 5 caliber player alongside a top 15 caliber second option, and are coached by a top 3 coach. This team has it all. And just as it has been for them, their title chances lie simply in health. If fully healthy, they can take on anyone in the playoffs.

High ceiling but a lot has to go right: Mavericks, Wolves, Pelicans, Suns

The teams in this tier would usually be ones that you don’t want to see in the playoffs. You always get one or two of those teams that, man, you don’t want to face and risk having a seven-game series.

This is also the group that could make a deep playoff run and tests the contenders but a lot has to go right for them to do that, and I’d still bet against them in most cases.

I’m not moved by the Dallas Mavericks. At all. Are they even better than last year? They basically swapped out Jalen Brunson for Christian Wood. I see this as a lateral move.

This is still most likely going to be very Luka Doncic heliocentric offense — Per BBall-Index, in the entire database from 2014 amongst players with at least 500 min, Doncic’s last season ranks first in offensive involvement rate with 97.0, and the season before that ranks second with 86.8.

And I think there’s a ceiling on this type of offense and the Mavericks have hit it already. There’s only so much you can do with an offense revolving around a player to this extent. There clearly needs to be another star involved — don’t see Spencer Dinwiddie, Wood, or Tim Hardaway Jr as that.

They are ranked as high as they are now mainly because of Doncic. Although there is a ceiling, that ceiling is still pretty damn good — especially when it’s led by a top 5 caliber player.

I’m expecting quite a significant drop-off from the Suns for a few reasons. After a resurgence of Chris Paul in the past two or three seasons, I think it’s time Father Time catches up. I don’t know if they’re able to sustain their level of offense with the type of shots they were getting. And their vibe just feels off.

It’s been fun seeing Paul come alive in Phoenix, but that won’t last forever. And I don’t think this is the same case as LeBron James, where he needs to fall off before you can say he will fall off. Paul has already fallen off in many areas — his ability to get to the rim is non-existent.

I will still give them the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t know if I can be optimistic about them while also considering the competition.

I’m a big New Orleans Pelicans believer. This is the year where they don’t find themselves in the play-in and hoping to just make the eighth seed. Even this year, without their best player, they were able to make the playoffs and take the Suns to six games.

The CJ McCollum trade helped a lot — Per CTG, since the trade, they were 16th in net rating, 13th in offense, and 18th in defense. Digging further, with him on the court, they had a 118.6 offense(91st percentile). And when you add Brandon Ingram to that mix, they were plus 5.2 with a 119.5 offense(93rd). This net rating would have tied for fifth with the Warriors.

And now this is all without a top-25 player in Zion Williamson. They were already an elite offense without one of the most gifted offensive players. This is what they’re getting from Williamson:

It’s mind-blowing looking at that chart. Adding that to two All-Star caliber offensive players, and this team is going to be elite on that end.

I think there are still some questions about the defense that limits them from the upper tier, but I don’t think their defense is going to be bottom five.

The Minnesota Timberwolves made a splash in the off-season. They came out of nowhere to get a generational defender in Rudy Gobert to pair him with another generational offensive big in Karl Anthony Towns. I don’t think there has ever been a more unique pairing in the frontcourt than this.

For the past five seasons, having Gobert on the court basically meant a top 5 defense. Per PBP, since 2018, the Utah Jazz had a 105.4 defense in 11,033 minutes. Across the same period, the opponent's rim frequency decreased from 31.2% to 26.7% and went from shooting 64.5% to 61.5%.

But this move also won’t just improve the defense, this will be a much better offensive team, too. Since January 1st, the Wolves already ranked first overall. Replacing Gobert with Jarred Vanderbilt is going to do wonders for the team.

And this is all without mentioning Anthony Edwards's growth, D’Angelo Russell and Gobert’s 2-man game, and a bunch of players that will contribute a lot like Kyle Anderson, Jaden McDaniels, and Jaylen Nowell.

Playoff bound with low ceiling: Blazers, Lakers, Grizzlies

These teams are kinda playoff locks to me. Technically, they’d still be in the play-in, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if one of them swapped places above. I’m still pretty confident in them making the playoffs one way or another.

Although these teams are all in the same tier, I view them all very differently.

The Portland Trail Blazers are locks for the play-in. With a fully healthy Damian Lillard, plus many high-quality starters and low All-Star caliber players, this team will not suck. Since Lillard’s rookie year, this team won 50 or more games three times and was .500 or above in all but one of the seasons.

Having Lillard on your team pretty much guaranteed a top offense that was able to overcome any defensive shortcomings. And this year, you can make a case that this is one of the better defensive teams in the last couple of seasons.

This is a different team compared to what Lillard played with before he got injured. There is no more McCollum. There’s also an emerging Anfernee Simons, Jerami Grant, Josh Hart, and Gary Payton.

I’m not too sure how to feel about a Lillard-Simons backcourt — it feels a lot like the same backcourt we just saw with him and McCollum. But the surrounding cast looks solid. Solid for the play-in.

The Los Angeles Lakers are a big question mark. They are the Brooklyn Nets of the West. Things can either go all well and they could make a deep playoff run or they’ll have no chance at making the top 6.

A lot of it depends on their overall health. Even with last year’s roster, they make the play-in if both James and Anthony Davis play more games. So, their floor is automatically a play-in team this year that could push for sixth.

As far as their ceiling, that depends on a lot of things. Will Russell Westbrook still be on this team? If they trade for him, who are they getting? If they don’t, how will that work this season?

When healthy, James is still one of the top 7 players and Davis isn’t just some All-Star player, I still think this duo can easily carry the team into the playoffs and maybe as the top 6 seed.

I think the Memphis Grizzlies overachieved a lot last season. One key stat from this season that makes me feel it isn’t replicable is how elite they were without Ja Morant. They were 20-5 with a plus 13.7 net rating — the Utah Jazz were second with a plus 5.8.

They also made little moves in the off-season and seem that they are mostly banking on internal improvements. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing but at the same time, I’d trust other teams more.

They are still a decent team with Morant being an All-NBA caliber, Jaren Jackson Jr being DPOY caliber (though, he will miss some time early on), and a potential leap from Desmond Bane. I could also see them rank higher in the regular season, but not so much when it comes to the playoffs.

Let’s just make the play-in: Kings

These are the teams that I think are just good enough to make the play-in and have no hope of making the top 6 and are most likely getting eliminated in the play-in.

The Sacramento Kings are the only ones here — don’t see any of the four teams below having enough talent to make the play-in above these teams, plus I don’t think they’d even try. They also have made moves to get better now — trading for Domantas Sabonis last season, drafting Keegan Murray, and bringing in players like Kevin Huerter, and Malik Monk.

We’ve seen a bit of Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox together and they were fun on offense — per CTG, they had a 116.2 offense(80th percentile). They’re going to be fun and good offensively, especially with all the additions.

The issue is going to be on the other end. With Sabonis on the court, they had a 116.2 defense(21st percentile). I don’t think the defensive problems have been addressed, so I don’t expect that to get any better. And I don’t see the offense being that elite to offset all of that.

There are situations where a team can be somewhat successful despite having a horrendous defense, but that usually comes with a top-5 offense. Are the Kings an elite offense? Wouldn’t bet on that.

Lottery bound: Spurs, Jazz, Thunder, Rockets

I’m confident in these three teams being the worst in the conference with almost zero chance of even making the play-in. And I don’t see any of these teams wanting to be better when they could have higher odds of winning the lottery.

The bottom of the West is pretty much set. The only thing that’s uncertain is the order of these teams and that will depend on which team wants to lose more. And these teams may be better than what their record shows, but this year’s championship is to win the lottery.

The San Antonio Spurs have finally decided to embrace the tank. Although they haven’t made the playoffs in the last three seasons, they were in the play-in range in the last two. This year, though, they won’t be anywhere close.

They will be without Dejounte Murray for the first time in this soft rebuild, so now they are without an All-Star caliber young talent. They do have a collection of young players — Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Tre Jones, and Jeremey Sochan. But I currently don’t see any of these players that stand out.

The Jazz have done a complete 180. Just last season, they were the number one seed, and almost won 50 games this year. Well, scrap all of that. Let’s trade the two best players in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell for a complete rebuild.

And they got a pretty, pretty big return for it, which includes Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, Vanderbilt, and a ridiculous amount of picks. They still have a few veterans worth trading, but whatever they get in return, they won’t be winning games.

The Houston Rockets have a lot of nice young talent. Perhaps in other drafts, they would be more aggressive in trying to go for the play-in, but I don’t see that happening this year. There is a bunch of talent that will make them worth watching — Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr, Jabari Smith Jr, and Tari Eason — but their season won’t be about wins in the standings.

I like the Oklahoma City Thunder the most out of this group. They have by far the best player in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and that alone I think puts them ahead of them all. Then there’s Josh Giddey, who’s already one of the best passers, heading into his second year, Lu Dort, and a few rookies. It’s unfortunate that Chet Holmgren is out for the year because he would have helped a lot.

Continue Reading