Every year before training camps begin, the NBA releases their long-awaited power rankings for each conference. Starting with the West, the league’s writers released their official rankings on Thursday, and there is a lot to break down.
Six NBA.com writers were featured in this piece, and were asked to rank their top-three Western Conference teams. Following each list was an explanation that detailed the rationale behind the teams chosen, along with the logic behind the order. While the Golden State Warriors, LA Clippers, and Phoenix Suns dominated the league’s first Western Conference power rankings, there are some sleeper teams that deserve a mention.
First-place votes: Warriors: 5, Clippers: 1
Second-place votes: Clippers: 3, Grizzlies: 1, Suns: 1, Warriors: 1
Third-place votes: Suns: 3, Clippers: 1, Grizzlies: 1, Nuggets: 1
From this breakdown, if it were like the voting for league awards, the Golden State Warriors would take first, the LA Clippers would take second, and the Phoenix Suns would finish third. Should the voting include a top-five, the Grizzlies and Nuggets would round out the list.
As previously mentioned, it is not surprising to see the Warriors, Clippers, and Suns make up the top-three; however, there is a noticeable omission that seems to be hiding in plain sight.
What about the Dallas Mavericks?
It is not common to see a team advance to the Conference Finals and fail to even receive an honorable mention in the NBA’s pre-season power rankings; however, that is exactly what has happened with the Dallas Mavericks. While they were overmatched by the eventual champions in the Western Conference Finals, Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks made a statement in Game 7 vs. the Phoenix Suns.
Having pushed Kawhi Leonard the LA Clippers to the brink of elimination just two postseasons ago, Luka Doncic finally broke through the first-round in last year’s playoffs. Without a true co-star, much unlike the teams he was matched up against, Doncic reminded the world that he is one of the league’s most dominant forces.
Taking down the Western Conference’s top-seed, Doncic came within three wins of an NBA Finals appearance. While his supporting cast may not resemble that of the league’s top teams, his dominance alone is worthy of acknowledgment, especially coming off the season he just had.
Are the Nuggets a sleeping giant?
Receiving just one third-place vote in the NBA’s latest Western Conference power rankings, the Denver Nuggets may be a sleeping giant. Overmatched by the Warriors in last year’s opening round, Denver was without their second and third-best players. With Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. sidelined with lengthy injuries. Denver leaned heavily on their superstar Nikola Jokic, who happens to be the reigning back-to-back league MVP.
Putting up consecutive monster seasons, Jokic joined rare company with his back-to-back MVP awards, doing so last season without the help of his co-stars. Should Denver get healthy, there is no reason to believe they cannot contend in the Western Conference. With the best player on the floor almost every night, Denver will have a chance against anybody, especially if Murray and Porter Jr. regain form.
While these pre-season power rankings are not bad in their entirety, there are some clear oversights that should have received more attention. It is hard to argue with the Warriors being the favorites, with the Clippers right behind them, but after that it becomes less black and white.
The Phoenix Suns have done little to remain deserving of this much optimism, and in most other cases, would never be unanimously ranked above a team that just eliminated them. With certain teams waiting on reinforcements, while others anticipate growth from their youth, it may quickly become more crowded at the top than it’s been in recent years.
One thing is for certain, the Western Conference is stacked.