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Bold Predictions for the Western Conference in 2015-16

It’s that time of year where I make a bold prediction for each team that I’ll probably regret later. I already did the Eastern Conference, and for Part 2, we conclude with the Western Conference.

Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry repeats incredible season, but doesn’t win MVP

Logic would say that Curry will take a step back after a season in which everything went right for him and the Warriors, but I think his numbers will be about the same. Another year in Steve Kerr‘s offense should help, and there’s just no good way to defend the lethal point guard. At the end of the year, his numbers will be about the same as last season.

But that won’t be good enough to win MVP again. LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis will have one of those transcendent seasons, and Curry won’t repeat as the Most Valuable Player.

Los Angeles Clippers – Lance Stephenson will have a playoff triple-double

After everything went wrong for Stephenson last year, he’ll get back to being close to the player he was in Indiana, which was a streaky player with the potential to shape a series based on how he plays. The Clippers, however, have the resources to limit Born Ready’s minutes when he’s ineffective, and will only ride him when he’s hot. He’ll come off the bench in a game when Chris Paul has foul trouble and carry the Clippers to a win with a triple-double in the playoffs.

Los Angels Lakers – Finish last in field goal percentage

The Lakers finished 25th in field goal percentage last year and returned most of their chuckers. Add in Roy Hibbert, who’s notorious for his low field goal percentage as a big man, and the Lakers will sink all the way to the bottom in that department.

Phoenix Suns – Eric Bledsoe is the “Mike Conley” of this year’s All-Star voting

Bledsoe is going to have a bit of a breakout this season and put himself in the category of elite players in the Western Conference. However, he’ll just miss out on the All-Star Game because of how loaded the West is, and he’ll have to settle with being the best player who just missed out. He can talk to Conley about how that feels, since it’s happened to Conley several times over the course of his career.

Sacramento Kings – The Kings make another big move before the All-Star break

I don’t know if this even counts as a bold prediction; of course the Kings are going to shake things up again soon! This team will not sit still, particularly if the squad gets off to a disappointing start. It could be a Rudy Gay trade, it could be trading every draft pick left in the cupboard for Carmelo Anthony, it could be firing George Karl. As Kevin Garnett said, anything is possible!

Portland Trail Blazers – Meyers Leonard averages a double-double

I’ve already written about why Leonard is going to break out. Untapped talent+opportunity+good environment=big numbers.

Utah Jazz – Make the playoffs and scare one of the favorites in Round 1

Not only will the Jazz make the playoffs, but Quin Snyder’s club will also put the fear of defeat into whichever team it matches up against in the first round. This Jazz team will embrace its identity, which is a motion offense and a strong defense that starts down low with the dynamic pairing of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. The defense will frustrate a team in the first round, before the Jazz fall in six or seven games and take a massive step in the right direction.

Oklahoma City Thunder – Serge Ibaka falls just short of the 50/40/90 club

Much has been written about the return of Kevin Durant and how Russell Westbrook will have to alter his game, if at all.

One player who will unquestioningly benefit from Durant’s presence is Ibaka. Ibaka shot 47.6 percent from the field and 37.6 percent from the three-point line last season, and Durant being on the floor will allow Ibaka much cleaner looks. He’ll clear 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from the three-point line, and his free throw percentage (83.6 percent last year) will improve. However, he’ll fall just short of the 90 percent from the line, leaving him just shy of the elusive club.

Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns has the best season out of the rookies, but doesn’t win Rookie of the Year

Towns will have an outstanding rookie year, becoming the perfect complement to Andrew Wiggins, and will be a force on both sides of the ball.

However, he won’t score or assist as much as other rookies, and the ROTY will go to someone who has better basic per game numbers like Jahlil Okafor or Emmanuel Mudiay. This will cause several arguments on Twitter where people get way too upset.

Denver Nuggets – Danilo Gallinari sets career-high in PPG

There were times when it looked like Gallinari would never return to the player he was, but he looked good down the stretch last season and has impressed in EuroBasket. The Nuggets will need Gallinari to be a go-to guy, and he’ll provide a lot of scoring and eclipse his previous high of 16.2 points per game.

Houston Rockets – Offensive and defensive efficiency flip

The Rockets surprised a lot of people last season when the team finished sixth in defensive efficiency and 12th in offensive efficiency. The team was expected to be better on offense, but all year, defense was Houston’s calling card.

The team will be what everyone expected last year this season, finishing close to the top five in offensive efficiency and just outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency. With Ty Lawson likely in the starting lineup, the Rockets have another creator who will help grease the wheels of an offense that was stagnant at times last year, but it comes at a defensive price. Houston will be a little better than last year, but very different in terms of style.

Dallas Mavericks – Make a trade to make playoffs, but fall short anyway

Mark Cuban knows he’s running short on time with Dirk Nowitzki, and he’ll do anything possible to try and make another run with his franchise player. It’ll become clear that the team needs to trade for a big man early in the year, and Cuban will sell future assets to acquire one.

Ultimately, that trade won’t be enough, unless Dallas pulls off a blockbuster. Wesley Matthews is going to take some time before being the player he was, and Deron Williams will never be the player he was again. There just isn’t enough on this team to make the playoffs in the West, and the Mavericks will fall short.

San Antonio Spurs – Kawhi Leonard will make All-NBA Second Team

Last year felt like it would be the breakout of Leonard, but a slow start due to injury prevented him from fully putting his stamp on the season.

This season, there won’t be any of those issues. Leonard will be one of the best players in the league from start to finish, and will not only make his first All-Star team, but also make the All-NBA Second Team as well.

Memphis Grizzlies – Will win most games in franchise history

Yes, the Grizzlies didn’t do anything exciting this offseason. Brandan Wright was a nice signing, but the thought process seems to be that these are the same old Grizzlies.

And that may be true, but these same old Grizzlies have been pretty darn good for a few years. Marc Gasol is still an elite player, and he still has a good cast and good coaching staff around him. With the lower-tiered playoff teams likely having worse records than last year, and a bunch of teams undergoing change, the familiar Grizzlies will rack up at least 57 wins, earning a place in the team’s history books.

New Orleans Pelicans – Anthony Davis attempts a three per game

Davis barely shot threes last year, attempting just 0.2 per game for the season. But Alvin Gentry is going to do everything he can to make Davis the most dangerous weapon the league, and he’ll unleash the Brow from deep.

Once Davis starts shooting (and making threes), he’ll truly be impossible to stop.

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