NBA Roundtable: Western Conference Edition
NBA Roundtable: Western Conference Edition

This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.

Welcome to the latest edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable. All season long, our staff of experts will convene once a week to answer a set of questions about what's happening around the league, both in fantasy and reality.

This week, we focus in on the Western Conference: LeBron's arrival, playoff predictions, rookies to watch and more.

1. Which Western Conference playoff team(s) from last season do you project to miss the playoffs this season?

James Anderson: Minnesota is the only 2018 playoff team I think misses the playoffs this year. Full disclosure: I had them missing the playoffs even before Jimmy Butler requested a trade, but my reasoning had a lot to do with the poor working relationship between the coach and best player (Towns); and the best player and the second-best player (Butler). I think the Nuggets take that spot.

Nick Whalen: With or without Jimmy Butler, Minnesota was going to be a borderline playoff team. Without him, they're out. I have Denver taking Minnesota's spot, and while I'm not convinced the Lakers are a playoff lock, if they do make it, New Orleans or Portland is the other team to drop out.

Alex Barutha: Aside from Minnesota – TBD depending on the Jimmy Butler trade – I could see Portland missing the postseason. I'm just out on the Damian Lillard/C.J McCollum pairing at this point, and it's generally not a good sign when the buzz surrounding your bench is Seth Curry and Zach Collins.

Ken Crites: The Timberwolves seem like the obvious pick, with Jimmy Butler moving on and Andrew Wiggins as one of the games most overrated players. Not sure how Minny can overcome the current turmoil. I also assume the Spurs and Pelicans will struggle to return San Antonio suddenly lacks outside shooting, and I don't trust Elfrid Payton in New Orleans.

Mike Barner: The Timberwolves will fail to make the playoffs if Jimmy Butler is ultimately traded. They won't be able to get anyone close to as good as he is in return and they barely made it last year.

Ben Miller: I have both the Nuggets and the Lakers making the postseason, so that means two other teams would have to fall out. With Jimmy Butler leaving, I could see the Timberwolves falling out of contention. The second team is more of a toss up to me, but I'll go with the Spurs, even though they're adding DeMar DeRozan to the mix.

Juan Blanco: I think the Timberwolves stand a chance to miss after barely squeaking in last season, particularly if Jimmy Butler is traded. Wiggins is inconsistent, Gibson is a year older and Teague, while effective at times, saw a drop across multiple categories last season. Moreover, younger teams such as the Nuggets and Lakers that were left out of the equation should certainly be making a push.

2. Where do you project the Lakers to finish in the West? And how does LeBron's move to the Lakers impact his fantasy value?

James Anderson: I think the Lakers finish ninth in the West. I really love LeBron, but I think even he knows they aren't competing this season, which I think results in him resting for a handful of games and not trying at all on 80 percent of the defensive possessions. They could trade for someone like Kawhi Leonard in-season, but I don't think we can just project a major addition like that. This is just a chill year before they start contending in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Nick Whalen: Somewhere between sixth and ninth in the West. This supporting cast is better than what LeBron had in Cleveland last season, but put that Cavs team in the West and they're fighting for the eight seed. Until the Lakers upgrade at center, I'll remain skeptical about their ability to get to 50 wins in a conference loaded with elite big men. In terms of LeBron's individual value, I think he'll take a step back by default. He's not playing 82 games again, and he won't be as aggressive as he had to be for 35-plus minutes a night in Cleveland. Given his durability, LeBron's fantasy floor is probably the highest of any player ever, but I think his ceiling is lower than it's been in recent years.

Alex Barutha: I see them somewhere between four and six. I believe (in some order) HOU, GSW, OKC, UTA and NOP are firmly entrenched as playoff teams, while everyone else will be battling it out for the final three spots. If that's the case, I'm banking on LeBron coming out on top of that group, with the possibility of a late-season surge giving them home-court advantage.

Ken Crites: I see the Lakers finishing third or fourth in the West. People are acting like LeBron had some amazing supporting casts back in Cleveland. He did not. I'm bullish on LeBron in LA. I incorrectly predicted last year that age would catch up to him. was wrong. I'm not making that mistake again.

Mike Barner: I think they could finish as high as the third seed if everything breaks their way, but they will likely end up around the fourth or fifth seed. LeBron has an unusual supporting cast around him, but the Cavaliers weren't exactly perfect last year either, to say the least. I think his assists will be down playing with Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo and I'd be very surprised if he plays all 82 games again.

Ben Miller: As far as fantasy value, I don't think it changes much, if anything at all, for LeBron. He'll still be the go-to option and is going to do a little bit of everything. I'd be more worried about his age slowing him down, rather than the team he's playing with. I'm expecting the Lakers to come in at fourth in the West, with the Warriors and Rockets easily finishing ahead of them and either the Trail Blazers or Thunder also sneaking a game or two above.

Juan Blanco: I think the Lakers will be a No. 5 seed in the West. The move to LA will keep James' value about the same in my opinion, as he'll still be relied on heavily, especially if Lonzo Ball continues his trend of missing chunks of time. And whether Ball or Rondo is at point guard, James should benefit greatly from their distribution skills.

3. Rank the top five players (in real life) in the Western Conference heading into this season:

James Anderson: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, James Harden

Nick Whalen: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, James Harden

Alex Barutha: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Steph Curry

Ken Crites: LeBron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry

Mike Barner: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, James Harden

Ben Miller: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, James Harden, Russell Westbrook

Juan Blanco: LeBron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis

4. Other than the Rockets, which team could give Golden State the most trouble in a Western Conference Finals series?

James Anderson: I considered the Pelicans, but I'll go with the Jazz. I think they have the highest ceiling if Donovan Mitchell improves like I expect and they get the same year from Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio. Dante Exum is a wild card, in that he could take them from the best defense in the NBA to a historically good defense if he proves capable of guarding 2-to-3 positions at a high level all season.

Nick Whalen: Utah. When the Cavs beat the Warriors in 2016, the recipe wasn't to outscore Golden State, it was to force the Warriors to play a different style. In the three games the Warriors won, they averaged 110.6 points per game. In their four losses? 94.3 per game. Containing Golden State on defense is more important than trying (and failing) to keep up on offense. I don't think Utah has the firepower to take more than a game or two from the Warriors, but if any team can scheme against Curry, Thompson, Durant and Cousins, it's the Jazz.

Alex Barutha: The Thunder. I'm as pessimistic about Russell Westbrook as anyone (39.3 FG% and a 1.6 AST/TO ratio over his past 11 playoff games.) but maybe OKC's defense can hold up just enough for seven games? Maybe?

Ken Crites: I hate typing this, but I'll say the Lakers. I don't believe it, though, because I think they are still one big free agent signing away from truly pestering Golden State. But, really, who else is outside of Houston stands a chance? Maybe if Utah can get a second scorer, they can go places. I'd love to see Donovan Mitchell and that roster blossom.

Mike Barner: I'll say the Lakers just because they have LeBron, but I think the Warriors and Rockets are by far the two best teams right now.

Ben Miller: There definitely isn't another team that could give the Warriors trouble. If I'm forced to give an answer, I'll go with the Lakers simply because of the LeBron factor. But again, that's beyond far-fetched.

Juan Blanco: Hard to imagine any other team having any realistic shot as things currently stand, but if I had to pick one, I'd give the Pelicans and Trail Blazers the next best shot, even with New Orleans having lost Cousins to Golden State. I think Randle will be a great fit there, Mirotic provides excellent depth and Payton will also do well.

5. Which offseason addition will make the biggest impact: DeMar DeRozan, Carmelo Anthony, Julius Randle, or DeAndre Jordan?

James Anderson: I'm pretty sure Melo and DeAndre were included to try to elicit a horrible answer from someone. It's pretty clearly between DeRozan and Randle for me – DeRozan because of how good he is and Randle because of how perfectly he fits with AD. I'll go with DeRozan, because I think he'll have his best season from a real life standpoint now that he's in the Spurs' offensive system where he should get more clean looks than ever before. Who knows, maybe Pop will even get him to be a league-average defender. Without DeRozan, the Spurs wouldn't be a playoff team, but with him they could get to the second round.

Nick Whalen: I think DeRozan is going to really help the Spurs, but I'll go with Randle. If everything breaks right, the Randle/Davis/Mirotic trio will be one of the most fun frontcourts in the league to watch.

Alex Barutha: This is probably the contrarian answer but I'm going to say DeAndre Jordan. It might not be a hot take to believe the Mavs will improve significantly, but Jordan should help improve Dallas' sixth-worst rebounding rate and second-worst shot-blocking rate. Luka Doncic is also a better passer than anyone on the Clippers was last season (sorry Milos Teodosic) and should be able to find Jordan for easy dunks.

Ken Crites: Frankly, I'm not excited about any of these moves. Maybe I'm underestimating DeRozan's growth as a three point shooter? I'm happy for Randle – he deserves to be in an environment that values his services.

Mike Barner: The Mavericks badly needed a center, but DeAndre Jordan doesn't vault them into the mix as a dangerous team. DeRozan should have the biggest impact with his new squad because the Spurs didn't really have a viable scoring option to go along with LaMarcus Aldridge after Kawhi Leonard went down. Aldridge averaged 23.1 points per game last year and no other player who appeared in at least 50 games averaged more than 11.5 points.

Ben Miller:DeMar DeRozan is the correct answer here. After missing Kawhi Leonard for the majority of last season, the Spurs will be getting a four-time All-Star that can do a lot of damage with the ball in his hand. Whether or not he can keep the Spurs in the playoffs is another question, but of those four, DeRozan is the guy that should immediately slot in and have the biggest role and impact. I'll go with Julius Randle as my second option of the group.

Juan Blanco: I think it will be DeRozan, with Jordan a close second. DeRozan will bring a vital offensive component to the Spurs that Leonard used to provide prior to last season, affording Aldridge some much-needed support on that end in the process. San Antonio hasn't had truly reliable, night-to-night scoring from their shooting guard position in quite some time, but DeRozan will reverse that trend immediately.

6. The top four picks in the draft – Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson – all play in the West. Which rookie are you most looking forward to watching this season?

James Anderson: Doncic. This is a stupid question.

Nick Whalen: Doncic is my real answer, but I'm most intrigued by what Jackson can become this season. Adding a high-lottery pick to an already-good team is always fun, and I think the Grizzlies' veteran core will help Jackson develop at his own pace.

Alex Barutha: Doncic. He's the most well-rounded prospect out of the group. Plus, I love to watch great passers, so he gets a bump there. Bagley is at the bottom of my list right now because I've been watching him brick nine-foot hook shots since summer league.

Ken Crites: I'm old school and love watching big guys who can pass. This might sound crazy, but I'm looking forward to the 6-7 Doncic playing power forward and leading fast breaks with Dennis Smith. At 30 years old, can DeAndre Jordan still run, catch and dunk? I hope so. Luka Doncic is going to be a lot of fun to watch.

Mike Barner: I'm excited to watch Doncic because of his playmaking ability. The Mavericks are giving him the keys to the franchise and he's going to shine.

Ben Miller: I'm looking forward to watching Doncic. The Mavericks finally have some talent after a few down years and I'm excited to see how Doncic is featured alongside those other pieces. Ayton's preseason work does have me very intrigued, though, so I'll certainly be tuning in to some late-night Suns games as well.

Juan Blanco: All four are intriguing, but Doncic will be the one of most interest to me given his previous body of work in the EuroLeague, his positional versatility, and what should be an extended opportunity for minutes right from the jump.

7. Which team will represent the Western Conference in the Finals?

James Anderson: The Warriors. Another stupid question.

Nick Whalen: Golden State. This will be the Warriors' easiest walk to the Finals yet.

Alex Barutha: The Warriors. They're just the best team in the league.

Ken Crites: I wish I could come up with someone other than the Warriors, but I can't. I hate Carmelo Anthony in Houston. I wouldn't be surprised if Marquese Chriss passes him on the depth chart come February.

Mike Barner: The Warriors. They are just too talented and got even better with DeMarcus Cousins. The Rockets will be a tough out, but I don't think adding Carmelo Anthony does anything to improve their chances of beating the Warriors.

Ben Miller: The Golden State Warriors will represent the West for the fifth straight year.

Juan Blanco: When it's all said and done, I still like the Warriors to be there in the end, as they even proved they could get there last season while having key players miss significant time with injury and now have Cousins coming into the mix at some point.

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Nick Whalen
RotoWire's NBA Editor and host of the RotoWire NBA Podcast. Nick was awarded the FSWA Best Podcast -- All Sports award in 2017 and 2018. Many years ago, Stromile Swift gave Nick his unbelievably sweaty headband after a preseason game. Despite its failure to match his school colors, Nick went on to wear that headband for the entirety of his sixth grade basketball season. Catch Nick on Twitter @wha1en.
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