With Jimmy Butler inevitably leaving Minnesota and Dejounte Murray recently tearing his right ACL, there are likely a few extra wins to be had in the Western Conference. Last month, I posted my Western Conference projections which painted the playoff picture like so:
- Houston Rockets (61 wins)
- Golden State Warriors (56)
- Utah Jazz (55)
- Los Angeles Lakers (50)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (49)
- San Antonio Spurs (46)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (44)
- New Orleans Pelicans (43)
- Denver Nuggets (42)
- Portland Trailblazers (41)
That picture is a little different looking now. Is San Antonio, or Minnesota for that matter, definitely out of playoff contention? Absolutely not. Minnesota could acquire someone like Eric Gordon from the Houston Rockets, space the floor better, and be successful with a higher usage rate from Karl-Anthony Towns. Heck, I think I like that team better than Portland!
In my opinion, San Antonio will still make the playoffs. We know head coach Gregg Popovich is a wizard. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are coming off of All-NBA seasons. Sure, losing Dejounte Murray hurts, and inserting Derrick White or Patty Mills into the starting lineup is not ideal. However, throwing White, who impressed in the Summer League, into the fire to see how he performs could prove to be beneficial to both White and the Spurs. Their wing depth is questionable, and now the point guard depth is weak, but it’s hard to count San Antonio out.
Minnesota needs to acquire a better scorer than Josh Richardson from the Miami Heat, who has been attached the Butler trade rumors since day one. Richardson is an impressive two-way talent, but doesn’t put up the volume of points (13 points per game last season) the Wolves will need. Sure, Towns can certainly put up more points than he did last season (25 points per game in 2017, 21 in 2018) but the Timberwolves need better spacing and scoring options around Towns for the team to be successful. I’m worried about how much Derrick Rose plays this year, and in turn, how much less Tyus Jones plays as a result.
The biggest beneficiary of the recent Butler saga is Denver. I had Denver right on the bubble of making or missing the postseason. The difference in my projections was only one or two games between the seventh, eighth and ninth seeds in the western conference. Denver should now at least beat Minnesota one extra time, maybe even two depending on Minnesota’s return in a Butler trade.
I fully knowledge my projections are far from perfect. They are educated guesses like anyone else’s. The only “locks” for the western conference playoffs, in my opinion, are the Rockets, Warriors, Jazz, and the Lakers. The remaining four spots will be a tight race that is battled for by as many as nine other teams. Yeesh. My bet is that the Spurs still make the postseason while the Wolves do not, and the Nuggets take their spot.