SALT LAKE CITY – Utah Jazz fans will have two records to watch throughout the season, both that of their own team and the results of each Minnesota Timberwolves game.
The Timberwolves sent the Jazz an unprotected 2023 first-round pick when they acquired Rudy Gobert in July, giving fans in Utah a reason to root against the Minnesota roster.
While the Jazz can control their own place in the standings next season, where should the Timberwolves be expected to finish? Here’s a prediction on how the West stacks up to see where the Jazz and Timberwolves might sit to close the regular season.
Sure, the Phoenix Suns were probably the most disappointing team in the postseason, getting embarrassed by the Dallas Mavericks in a historic blowout loss at home in Game 7.
But, there’s a reason they owned the best record in the NBA last season, and had the second-best record in the NBA the year before that.
BIG MOOD. pic.twitter.com/ilbulbQYs4
Behind the steady hand of Chris Paul, and the young talent of Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, and Miles Bridges, Phoenix should again compete for the top spot in the West.
I don’t think they’ll win 64 games like they did last season after losing veteran center JaVale McGee, but they should easily finish in the high 50s.
The Warriors proved their staying power by winning their fourth NBA title of the last seven years last season, and did so despite injuries plaguing them throughout the season.
They’ll be the favorites to repeat as NBA champions, but recognize they don’t need to earn the top seed in the league to get back to the Finals.
Klay Thompson should be healthier, while Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman should take steps to help the Warriors stay relevant atop the standings in the West.
It’s easy to forget Dallas finished just one game behind the Warriors for the third-best record in the West last season, especially after their slow start to the season.
However, they were one of the best teams in the league after the New Year and carried that momentum through to the Conference Finals.
What Luka did to the Suns should be illegal pic.twitter.com/pgYiOsbg8m
Losing Jalen Brunson hurts, but adding Christian Wood at a low cost is a good plan, and newcomers Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans should be more comfortable in their roles.
Perhaps this is too low for the Grizzlies who finished with the second-best record in the West season and saw Ja Morant work his way into the MVP conversation after the impressive run.
But, with the loss of Kyle Anderson, the lack of upgrades to the roster this summer, and the injury to Jaren Jackson Jr. that will keep him out of the rotation early in the season, I see Memphis falling back to earth in 2022-23.
While all eyes will be on the return of superstar Kawhi Leonard, it’s easy to overlook the additions of Norman Powell and Robert Covington last year by the Clippers at the trade deadline.
Leonard has played more than 66 games only twice in his 11-year NBA career, so it’s safe to assume he’ll miss at least 20 games as he returns from the ACL tear.
The newest @LAClippers Norman Powell (26 PTS) & Robert Covington connect to cut in to the lead!
Live on NBA TV pic.twitter.com/KG0ODlvIGf
— NBA (@NBA) February 7, 2022
However, with an improved roster around Paul George, the Clippers should compete for the Western Conference title next season, even if they don’t have home-court advantage to open the playoffs.
The Nuggets could easily be swapped with either the Mavericks or Grizzlies on the previous list, though it’s fair to recognize that both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. may need some time to shake off the rust of not playing last season.
Nikola Jokic carried Denver to the sixth seed last year, so a return to the same spot despite a healthier roster might be frustrating for Nuggets fans, but West is simply stacked.
Acquiring Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown were solid depth moves, but might be offset by the addition of DeAndre Jordan. Overall, the Nuggets are good, but they aren’t quite contenders.
This would be a massive disappointment for the Timberwolves after going all-in to acquire Rudy Gobert from the Jazz, especially after finishing with the seventh seed in the West last season.
But again, the Western Conference Playoff chase will be cutthroat.
The @utahjazz have officially traded Rudy Gobert to the @Timberwolves.
See Ryan Smith's comments on Gobert here, and all the assets heading the Jazz way in the trade.#TakeNote https://t.co/xyDwX6mnXw
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) July 6, 2022
Anthony Edwards should be a year better, Karl Anthony-Towns is a magnificent offensive player, while Gobert offers the best rim protection in the league.
However, head coach Chris Finch will have to prove he can make the pieces fit over an 82-game schedule with some questionable depth on the roster.
Truthfully this might be too low for the Pelicans who finished last season in this same spot, despite not having Zion Williamson for the entire year.
With CJ McCollum now on the roster for the full season, and the young roster coming off an impressive first-round performance against the Suns, New Orleans is a darkhorse to compete for home court advantage if they can stay fully healthy next season, and could easily finish ahead of the Timberwolves.
It would be more difficult to picture the Lakers finishing at nine in the Western Conference standings with a roster that features LeBron James and Anthony Davis had they not finished 11th last season.
Considering James played in just 56 games last season and Davis appeared in only 40 and it’s easy to see where the Lakers could make a climb in the standings next season. However, the two have to stay healthy, and that’s far from a guarantee.
Otherwise, losing Malik Monk hurts, and they didn’t make any significant upgrades in the offseason.
Portland is another team that would be disappointed to not finish higher in the standings after getting healthier and making a few big offseason acquisitions.
With Damian Lillard back in the fold, and major defensive upgrades in Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II, the Trail Blazers should better resemble an NBA roster next season.
The talent at the top of the roster in Portland is solid, but they get dangerously thin beyond their starting lineup.
Another season of mediocrity looms for the Kings despite their run of strong roster moves over the last six months.
Sacramento added Domantas Sabonis mid-season but paid a steep price in Tyrese Haliburton. Keegan Murray might be the front runner to win Rookie of the Year, and the additions of Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter give them terrific playable depth.
Keegan Murray is BALLING on NBA TV
🏀 26 PTS | 7 REB | 4 STL pic.twitter.com/MZQFkWJeCd
— NBA (@NBA) July 14, 2022
It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that this team is a threat to make the playoffs via the play-in tournament, but Sacramento has done little to inspire faith over the better part of the last two decades.
Don’t be surprised if the Thunder are hanging around the playoff picture up through January next season, only to shut it down to get one last high-level draft pick to complete their rebuild.
Between Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort, Kenrich Williams, and the newly acquired Chet Holmgren the Thunder can win games next season, but they don’t want to win too many.
It’s difficult to look at a roster that still features Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Patrick Beverley, Malik Beasley, and Jarred Vanderbilt and expect it to finish with one of the three worst records in the West next season.
Regardless of any Donovan Mitchell trade, the @utahjazz roster still requires a lot of work before training camp. #TakeNote https://t.co/PL97q0Ydoa
— KSL Sports (@kslsports) August 2, 2022
But, it’s safe to assume at least a few of those players won’t be on the roster to start the year, and even fewer will be on the team after the trade deadline, giving the Jazz an easy pathway to lose.
Sending Gobert to the Timberwolves, and the free agency additions of Simone Fontecchio and Paris Bass gives you a better sense of how many games the Jazz are trying to win next season than does the current roster.
The Rockets are still in the infancy of their rebuild and need at least one more top-five draft pick before they start trying to win games.
Jabari Smith will get plenty of playing time next to Jalen Green next season, but the Rockets are going to be incredibly bad.
No team in the NBA has benefited more from tanking than the Spurs who forfeited one season in the 90s to land Tim Duncan and were rewarded with five NBA titles over the next two decades.
Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, and a few rookies will get ample opportunity to prove they can be a major part of the team’s rebuild, but the rest of the roster is auditioning to get traded elsewhere as the Spurs look to drop to the bottom of the NBA standings.