Charlotte Hornets

Warriors still the standard in the West, but which teams will offer biggest threat?

Kevin Durant (left) and Stephen Curry are Golden State’s stars, and there’s abundant depth around them as the Warriors set out to defend their NBA championship.
Kevin Durant (left) and Stephen Curry are Golden State’s stars, and there’s abundant depth around them as the Warriors set out to defend their NBA championship. AP

Predicted order of finish in the NBA’s Western Conference:

1. Golden State Warriors: It would take multiple injuries to key players for the Warriors not to win the West. They are so well balanced between offense and defense.

2. Houston Rockets: They have two of the best dribble-drive players in the league in James Harden and Chris Paul. And the coach, Mike D’Antoni, is so creative offensively.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder: OKC got a long-term commitment from Russell Westbrook. Will Paul George and Carmelo Anthony also stick around as a Big Three?

4. San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard won’t be ready for the season opener because of a quadriceps injury. Gregg Popovich sets the standard for coaching in the NBA.

5.Minnesota Timberwolves: They got much-needed experience with the trade for Jimmy Butler. Karl-Anthony Towns is so talented and so versatile in a way that transcends the term “center.”

6. Denver Nuggets: Center Nikola Jokic emerged as a star last season. Signing power forward Paul Millsap was key to this team’s depth. They need more from point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.

7. Utah Jazz: Losing Gordon Hayward in free agency to the Boston Celtics is a major hit. However, center Rudy Gobert is a great defender and improving continuously on offense.

8. Portland Trail Blazers: Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are a dynamic backcourt. Rookie Zach Collins provides versatility and depth at power forward and center.

9. Dallas Mavericks: At 39, Dirk Nowitzki is nearly twice as old as his point guard, rookie Dennis Smith, Jr. The Mavs have enough to get into the playoffs in the West.

10. New Orleans Pelicans: Pairing Anthony Davis with DeMarcus Cousins is intriguing, but there’s still not enough results to say it’s a success. Can’t waste Davis’ prime in the lottery.

11. Los Angeles Clippers: With Chris Paul gone to Houston, the Clippers are neither a contender nor a true rebuilding team. Coach Doc Rivers no longer has final say on player personnel.

12. Sacramento Kings: This is an odd mix of the young (rookies De’Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson) and the old (Vince Carter and Zach Randolph). Do the Kings have a long-term plan?

13. Memphis Grizzlies: A team with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley can be dangerous game-to-game. But the Grizzlies lack the depth that helped make them a playoff fixture.

14. Phoenix Suns: Remember when Devin Booker’s athleticism was questioned leading up to his draft? Crazy. He is so much more than a jump shooter, and so entertaining with the ball.

15. Los Angeles Lakers: Hopefully, the hype-fest surrounding rookie Lonzo Ball doesn’t impede his development. He and Brandon Ingram are a nice foundation for a rebuild.

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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