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How Top Seeds Have Fared In NBA Playoffs

A look back at how the top NBA seeds have fared in the playoffs over the last decade.

John Zitzler

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Each year, we see teams dominate during the regular season. This season has been no different. The Warriors have thrived under first-year coach Steve Kerr and been the best team in the NBA. In the East, the Hawks have vaulted themselves to the top of the conference by playing tough defense and relying on team-first concepts on the offensive end. While Cleveland has come on strong as the season has progressed, the Hawks have a firm grip on the top seed in the East. Having the number one seed is certainly beneficial, but it’s no guarantee of a deep playoff run. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the top seeds have fared over the last 10 years.

2014

Eastern Conference: Indiana Pacers

Despite landing the top seed in the East last season, the Pacers were pushed to seven games in their first round series with the Hawks. They narrowly advanced and faced the Wizards in round two. The Wizards took Game One of that series, but the Pacers bounced back winning the next three before closing the series in Game Six. Their playoff run would come to an end in the conference semi-finals against the HEAT. Indiana struggled to score as they were held under 95 points in all but one game during the series. Miami advanced in six games to face the Spurs in the Finals.

Western Conference: San Antonio Spurs

Like the Pacers, the Spurs were tested early on, needing seven games to overcome their in-state rival Dallas Mavericks in round one. In round two, they faced the Portland Trail Blazers, who were unable to put up much of a fight. The Spurs made quick work of the Blazers, winning their second round series in five games. They would meet Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder in the conference semi-finals. The Spurs knocked off the Thunder in six games, even with Durant and Westbrook both averaging over 25 points per game during the series. This meant we would see a Finals rematch; the Spurs would get another shot at the HEAT. They set tone in Game One, winning 110-95 and didn’t look back from there. The Spurs were dominant throughout the Finals and needed just five games to beat the HEAT.

2013

Eastern Conference: Miami HEAT

The HEAT cruised through round one, sweeping the Bucks. They faced the Bulls in round two, a team that figured to be a more challenging opposition. However, without Derrick Rose, the Bulls were no match, falling to the HEAT in five games. The HEAT’s first real test came in round three against the Pacers. The Pacers battled the HEAT to seven games but were unable to finish the job, losing Game Seven, 99-76. They moved onto the Finals, matching up with the Spurs. The Spurs looked to be in control of the series right up until the last minute of regulation in Game Six. The HEAT were able overcome a five-point deficit with less than 30 seconds left in the fourth, keyed by a Ray Allen corner three, to send the game to overtime. The HEAT went on to win that game 103-100 before winning Game Seven, and their second title in two years.

Western Conference: Oklahoma City Thunder

In the West, the Thunder had a more difficult path to the Finals. In round one, they took care of business against former teammate James Harden and the Rockets, winning that series 4-2. Unfortunately, the Thunder lost star point guard Russell Westbrook to a knee injury in round one, which was a major blow to their championship hopes. Playing without Westbrook proved to be too much to overcome, as the Thunder fell to the Grizzlies in five games in round two.

2012

Eastern Conference: Chicago Bulls

The Bulls landed the one seed in the East during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season after going 50-16. They faced the Philadelphia 76ers in round one. Sadly, with the Bulls leading late in Game One, Derrick Rose landed awkwardly, tearing his ACL. With Rose out, the Sixers were able to pull-off the rare eight-seed-over-one-seed upset, sending the Bulls home early.

Western Conference: San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs once again found themselves as the top seed in the West in 2012. For the first two rounds, they looked Finals’ bound. The Spurs swept the Jazz in the round one before doing the same to the Clippers in round two. Next they faced the Thunder in the conference finals. The trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden were able to knock off the veteran Spurs in six games as the Thunder advanced to the Finals. The Thunder would go on to lose to the HEAT.

2011

Eastern Conference: Chicago Bulls

Led by MVP point guard Derrick Rose, the Bulls appeared have a real shot at making a title run. In round one, they needed just five games to oust the Pacers. The Bulls would move on to face the fifth-seeded Hawks. Rose was spectacular, averaging 29.8 points and 9.8 assists, as the Bulls cruised past the Hawks in round two – winning the series 4-2. In the conference finals, the Bulls met the HEAT and their infamous “Big Three.” The Bulls got off to a good start, winning Game One, however the talented HEAT were too much to handle as they won the next four games and advanced to the Finals. Behind the play of Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks defeated the HEAT 4-2 in the Finals.

Western Conference: San Antonio Spurs

To no one’s surprise, the Spurs were atop the Western Conference heading into the playoffs. They matched-up with the physical Grizzlies in round one. Memphis took Game One, 101-98, in San Antonio, but the Spurs bounced back winning the next two. The Grizzlies didn’t back down, winning three straight and taking the series, 4-2. The early exit had many questioning if the Spurs were getting too old to compete for a title. Those doubters would be silenced soon enough.

2010

Eastern Conference: Cleveland Cavaliers

In what would turn out to be LeBron James’ last year in Cleveland before temporarily taking his talents South Beach, the Cavs looked poised to make a title run. In round one they had little trouble with the Bulls, winning that series 4-1. In round two, they met up with a hungry Celtics team. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were on a mission to win another NBA title. The Celtics’ three veteran stars were able to lead the team over the Cavs, winning the series in six games. The Celtics would go on to face the Lakers in the Finals.

Western Conference: Los Angeles Lakers

An experienced Lakers group faced off against the up and coming Thunder in round one. While the Thunder certainly had talent with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Jeff Green and Serge Ibaka, they were still very young. They put up a good fight, but the Lakers ultimately prevailed winning their first round series, 4-2. The Lakers were dominate in their round two match-up with the Jazz, sweeping Utah, 4-0. In the conference semi-finals, the Lakers faced Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns. In what was a highly competitive series, the Lakers moved on, winning the series in six games. The Finals renewed one of the oldest rivalries in the NBA as the Lakers took on the Celtics. In what was a terrific seven-game series, the Lakers won in seven games.

2009

Eastern Conference: Cleveland Cavaliers

In 2008-09, LeBron James led the Cavaliers to a 66-16 record, looking like a near lock to win the Eastern Conference. They made quick work of the Pistons in round one and the Hawks in round two, sweeping both series. In the conference finals, the Cavs faced off with Dwight Howard and the Magic. Although James put up historical numbers, averaging 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8 assists, the Cavs fell short and lost the series, 4-2.

Western Conference: Los Angeles Lakers

Again, the Lakers were the cream of the crop in the West. They had no trouble in their first round series with the Jazz, advancing in five games. Their round two match-up with the Rockets was not nearly as easy. It took the Lakers seven games, but Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were able to beat the Rockets. Following their series with Houston, the Lakers faced the Nuggets in the conference semi-finals. The Lakers took care of business, winning that series in six games. The Magic posed few problems for the Lakers in the Finals, as they coasted to a 4-1 series victory.

2008

Eastern Conference: Boston Celtics

After struggling during the 2006-07 season, the Celtics made major changes bringing Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to play alongside, most notably, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. These moves paid immediate dividends. The Celtics won 66 games and landed the top seed in the East. While the Celtics looked great in the regular season, they were challenged in the playoffs. They needed seven games to advance past the Hawks in round one and again needed seven games in round two before defeating the Cavaliers. They knocked off the Pistons in the conference finals, 4-2, before facing the Lakers in the NBA finals. Allen, Pierce and Garnet were finally able to get that ring they had been chasing for so long, as the Celtics beat the Lakers 4-2 to take home the title.

Western Conference: Los Angeles Lakers

In 2008, Phil Jackson had the Lakers ready for another deep playoff run. They routed Nuggets in round one, sweeping the series 4-0. They faced slightly more resistance in round two against the Jazz but went on to win that series 4-2. Next, the Lakers met up with the three-seed Spurs. Again, the Lakers handled them relatively easily, needing only five games to win the series. In the Finals, the Lakers would meet a highly motivated Celtics team. The Lakers lost the first two games, falling behind in the series 0-2, and were never able to rebound eventually losing to the Celtics in six games.

2007

Eastern Conference: Detroit Pistons

The Pistons dominated the Magic in round one, sweeping the series. In round two, they would take on the Bulls, who were confident as well after sweeping the HEAT. The Pistons stingy defense held the Bulls to 87.5 points per game during the series, and they went on to win 4-2. However, they were unable to slow down a young LeBron James, falling to the Cavaliers in the conference finals in six games.

Western Conference: Dallas Mavericks

Dallas faced one of the more difficult eight seed match-ups in recent memory, going up against the high powered Golden State Warriors. The Mavericks were unable to slow the Warriors’ up-tempo attack and were stunned in round one, losing the series 4-2. The Spurs would go on to win the title over the Cavs.

2006

Eastern Conference: Detroit Pistons

Once again behind their tough defense, the Pistons landed the top seed in the East. They easily defeated the Bucks in round one, needing just five games to advance. LeBron James and the Cavaliers put up a valiant effort in round two, taking the Pistons to seven games before being held to 61 points in Game Seven as the Pistons moved on. Their run came to an end in the conference finals, losing 4-2 to the eventual NBA champion HEAT.

Western Conference: San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs went 63-19 on their way to the top of the West in 2006. They were able to get past the Kings in six games in round one, but faced a much tougher challenge in round two. The Mavericks took the Spurs to seven games and pulled off the upset in the conference semi-finals, defeating the Spurs 4-3.

2005

Eastern Conference: Miami HEAT

With Dwyane Wade playing some of the best basketball of his career, the HEAT were a dangerous team in the East. The looked unstoppable in the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping the Nets and Wizards consecutively. However, they met their match in the conference finals against Pistons. The Pistons’ physical play slowed down the HEAT and proved to be too much as Miami was defeated in seven games.

Western Conference: Phoenix Suns

Coach Mike D’Antoni had the Suns playing some of the most entertaining basketball of the last decade during the 2004-05 season. They led the league in scoring at 110.4 points and were a joy to watch. They had no trouble in their first round match-up with the Grizzlies, sweeping the series. In round two, they faced the Mavericks, winning that series in six games. The Suns took on the Spurs in the conference finals. The Spurs were able keep the Suns’ free flowing offense in check, defeating Phoenix, 4-1. The Spurs went on to beat the Pistons in the Finals.

 

As you can see, over the last the decade the top seed has won a number of NBA titles. However, there have also been a few instances of the top seed being sent home in round one. For the most part, the West has been the deeper conference and posed more of a challenge for the top seed to make it all the way to the Finals – and that will once again be true this season. In the East, the Hawks shouldn’t have much difficulty in round one, but could be challenged deeper into the postseason with the way the Cavaliers have played lately. It will be interesting see how far the top seeds advance this postseason.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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NBA Daily: Can Anyone Challenge the East’s Top Teams?

The Eastern Conference Finals will likely have two of the top three teams represented. While the rest of the teams in the East battle amongst themselves, do any of them have a shot to knock off Brooklyn, Philadelphia, or Milwaukee in the playoffs?

Chad Smith

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The Western Conference has been dominating the league once again, in terms of quality teams from top to bottom. The 13th worst team in the West would be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Though their depth is lacking, the East still has a few teams that are championship contenders this season.

The Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks all have a legitimate chance of reaching the NBA Finals this summer. It is championship-or-bust for these franchises who have emptied their wallets in order to pursue the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Each of these teams has at least two star players and another All-Star caliber player to help them reach their ultimate goal. Each one of these teams has a legitimate MVP candidate. In Brooklyn’s case, they just might have the greatest offensive three-headed monster the league has ever seen.

Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo are what separates these three teams from the rest of the conference.

This season there is plenty of parity among the remaining teams in the East. The standings change every night as these teams battle with nearly identical records. It would be a shocking surprise to not see one of Brooklyn, Philly or Milwaukee make it to the NBA Finals.

Odds are that two of these three teams will meet in the Conference Finals, but is there another team lurking that could upset the apple cart? Do any of these teams in the second-tier have enough talent and firepower to upset one of the East’s elite? Here are four teams that could play spoiler.

Miami HEAT

After reaching the NBA Finals last season in the bubble down in Orlando, the HEAT have definitely cooled off this year. They had a slow start at the beginning of the season, then had a long pause as health and safety protocols wreaked havoc on their roster. Not having Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic available really hurt them, but the tide could be turning.

Butler himself has been on a tear since returning to the court — and his teammates have followed his lead. Bam Adebayo has quietly had another outstanding year and they finally got their man Victor Oladipo before the trade deadline passed. Unfortunately, his recent injury put a serious damper on their hopes of getting back to the Finals.

Miami needs Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson to play more consistently, especially with Oladipo out. Veterans Andre Iguodala and Trevor Ariza should help in the postseason as they incorporate another perimeter shooter in Nemanja Bjelica. They have the star power and the experience needed to make another run, but the odds are stacked against them.

Atlanta Hawks

After a dismal start to the season, the Hawks appear to have figured out their identity. Much like the situation in Boston, this team was tasked with trying to build chemistry during a pandemic without essentially any practice. That is a difficult proposition and something that was going to take time. They also still needed to develop their young guys like Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter, Kevin Huerter and Onyeka Okongwu.

After turning things over to Nate McMillan, he has been able to coach up this young squad, even without some of their top talent. Every player on the team has missed a chunk of time this year and they have had to seriously rely on their depth to get them through most of the regular season. Having won 15 of their last 20 games, they now find themselves in a position to have home-court advantage when the playoffs begin.

The vision that Travis Schlenk had in the offseason is finally becoming clear. The incredible play of guys like Clint Capela, Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic and even Solomon Hill has been vital to their success. They will still lean on Trae Young and John Collins for their offense but the talented pieces around them are what will make this team tough to beat in a seven-game series.

Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have been one of the pleasant surprises this season, even after the acquisition of All-Star forward Gordon Hayward. Charlotte is the true definition of a team, as they have multiple guys that have stepped up and played well in spots throughout the season. PJ Washington, Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, Bismack Biyombo, Jalen McDaniels and the Martin twins of Cody and Caleb have all contributed to their success.

The play of LaMelo Ball had him sitting at the top of the rookie class before he suffered his broken wrist. His phenomenal first season may be over, but the organization is holding out hope that he may be able to return in the playoffs should Charlotte earn a spot in the postseason. Hayward is also back on the shelf as he continues to deal with a sprained foot. Charlotte has been able to stay afloat during their absences, which is a huge credit to James Borrego.

One more major difference-maker for the Hornets this season has been Terry Rozier. The electric guard is one of the top 40 scorers in the league this season and has been one of the best clutch performers as well. He is shooting a career-best 41 percent from behind the arc and 46 percent overall from the floor. They can be a dark horse come playoff time, but they will need their two best players healthy in order to have any chance.

Boston Celtics

It has been a very strange season for the Celtics, who entered the year with high expectations. They have been the greatest mystery this season and a puzzle that Brad Stevens is still trying to put together. Jaylen Brown has taken his game to another level and Jayson Tatum has had his moments as well. Both have cooled off since the All-Star break and Kemba Walker has been hot and cold from game to game.

Marcus Smart missed a lot of time and they brought in Evan Fournier at the trade deadline but he has yet to fit in like many thought he would. Chemistry could be the issue, but no one has really been able to put their finger on their kryptonite. The good news is that Tatum appears to finally be returning to health after his battle with COVID.

The center position has been a revolving door for this team all season, with Tristan Thompson, Daniel Theis, Robert Williams, Tacko Fall, Moritz Wagner and Luke Kornet all trying to fill the void left by Enes Kanter. They could have had the league’s leading shot-blocker Myles Turner, but Danny Ainge let Hayward walk for nothing instead.

On paper, this team is oozing with talent and should be much better than their record indicates. They may finally be figuring things out, having won six of their last seven games, including four straight. If their issues are truly fixed and if they can stay healthy, they will be a team that nobody wants to face in the playoffs.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Rajon Rondo Brings Leadership, Playmaking to Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

David Yapkowitz

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The Los Angeles Clippers made a big trade deadline move last month when they shipped out locker room favorite and perennial Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Rajon Rondo.

The Clippers have had one of the most efficient offenses in the NBA this season, but even so, they have had times where the offense seemingly stalls and they can’t seem to generate easing scoring opportunities especially late in games.

The calls for a true point guard only got louder after those games and the team finally gave in and rolled the dice on one of the league’s better playmakers, especially come playoff time. Williams has been a good playmaker himself throughout his career and he was averaging 3.4 assists per game prior to the trade.

But in Rondo, the Clippers get a premier playmaker and floor leader who has won two championships and whom the Lakers often closed games with last year in the postseason. Rondo made his Clippers debut on Easter Sunday in the team’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers and although his numbers didn’t jump off the stat sheet (2 points, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 4 turnovers in 12 minutes of play), he played with a lot of energy and pushed the pace well, something the Clippers haven’t always been so good at this season.

After the game, Rondo summed up what his role on the team is going to be quite simply.

“Just go out there and try and lead by example,” Rondo said. “I don’t like to talk as much without showing out on the court for my teammates.”

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue was a little more effusive in his thoughts on how Rondo will fit in on the team and how much better they will be with his addition. The Clippers have spoken all season long about needing to push the ball in transition and try and generate easy scoring opportunities on the break and that’s something Lue noticed right away with Rondo.

“You could just tell his pace brings a different something to our team and offensively he’s getting the outlet close to half court before the first pass is made. That generates pace for us and we need that,” Lue said. “As slow as we run sometimes, it’s probably going to have to be something that we adjust to, but I think he makes the game easier. When you get out and run in transition, a lot of teams can’t get back and get a match so we will get open shots. With him generating the pace, that’s going to be good for us.”

One area in particular that the team is hoping Rondo can help with is taking some of the ball-handling pressure off of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Both players have really stepped up in transitioning to primary ball-handling roles, something they haven’t had to do thus far in their careers.

They’re both averaging career-highs in assists at 5.0 and 5.4 respectively and have done well moving the ball around and getting good shots throughout the game for themselves and their teammates. But there have been times when the ball stagnates a bit and both Leonard and George end up taking tough contested shots late in the game.

With Rondo on board, the Clippers have a player that will keep the ball moving and can help get both of them easy looks down the stretch, something he did to perfection last year with LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

“Just trying to get our two main guys the ball in easier spots as far as them having to work so hard to get the ball against a set defense,” Rondo said. “If we are able to create stops to get on the break, my job is to advance the ball and let those guys attack one-on-one before the defense is set.”

In his first game playing alongside Rondo, George immediately saw the benefits and how Rondo will take pressure off of both him and Leonard.

“You just see his intangibles, you see he just sees plays happening,” George said. “I thought it just made the game easier getting it up to him, letting him push the ball, letting him initiate instead of a lot of times myself and Kawhi doing it. We got a guy that can do it, it’s just going to make the game easier for us.”

A team’s point guard is often an extension of the head coach on the court and Rondo certainly has been that throughout his career. He’s been a vocal leader on the court and in the locker room and his stint with the Dallas Mavericks notwithstanding, he’s been a very positive influence wherever he’s been.

He’s looking forward to working alongside Lue and doing his best to implement Lue’s schemes on the court both offensively and defensively.

“Just try to be on the same page as my coach. Not too much as me trying to outsmart my opponents, which at all times I want to be two steps ahead of,” Rondo said. “I want to stay afloat with my teammates as well and be on the same page as them and be an extension of [Tyronn Lue] on the court.”

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NBA

NBA Western Conference Bright Future Watch

The Western Conference is loaded with talent this year, but who will be the teams that dominate it in the future? Zach Dupont takes a look at which teams have the brightest future in the Western Conference.

Zach Dupont

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It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the current season as we head towards the climax of a great race for the Western Conference title. But there are already reasons to look past this year and get excited about the teams who could dominate the Western Conference past 2020-21.

Who are the teams that could strike next year? And who has set themselves up to have a bright future in the Western Conference?

Denver Nuggets

The Denver Nuggets are primed to become a force in the Western Conference for years to come and could easily be the favorites heading into next year. The Nuggets’ four best players, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon, are all under contract for next season, and all of them are younger than 26-years-old. Jokic has proved himself to be one of the best players in the NBA over the past few seasons and has emerged as a favorite for the MVP award this year. In 2020-21, Jokic is averaging 26.3 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three. Jokic’s wingman Murray is no slouch either, posting the best numbers of his career with 21.3 points per game on 48 percent shooting and 41.2 percent shooting from three. Combine Jokic’s MVP play and Murray’s high-end scoring ability with the shooting and potential of Porter Jr., and the defensive ability of Gordon and the Nuggets emerge as a clear threat in the Western Conference.

The Nuggets also won’t be lacking for depth next year like many of their rivals. Monte Morris is locked up for the next few seasons, and Will Barton and JaMychal Green have player options for next season that they could easily accept. The Nuggets can also keep Facundo Campazzo and P.J. Dozier for next season, as both are on non-guaranteed contracts. There are also younger players on the roster who have shown some promise and could be a factor next season. Zeke Nnaji showed potential as a stretch four in limited showings this year, and Bol Bol is still an exciting talent. Denver will even have some money to play with in free agency this offseason, although the looming extension they will owe Porter Jr. will make options limited. Paul Millsap will no longer be on the books at near $15 million a year, and if either Barton or Green decided to decline their player options, that would give the Nuggets more cap flexibility.

The Nuggets have the most intriguing mix of high-end talent and youth in the west, and while they’re already a threat this season, next season, they may be the favorites.

Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies may not be where Denver is as a team now, but long-term, they are equally as exciting. The Grizzlies are loaded with young talent up and down the roster, and they already have one of their stars of the future. Ja Morant has been a sensation since entering the league last season, and with another year of experience under his belt, the league should be worried about the Grizzlies’ potential. Morant is averaging 18.8 points and 7.4 assists per game in his sophomore campaign. Morant is joined by fellow youngster Jaren Jackson Jr., a two-way big with loads of potential. Jackson has yet to see the floor this year, but he showed the ability to protect the rim like an elite defender and knock down a high volume of three-pointers in his first two seasons of action.

The Grizzlies core may be focused around Morant and Jackson, but what makes Memphis more exciting than other teams out west is the roster’s pure volume of prospects. Brandon Clarke was a steal in the 2019 NBA Draft and has already shown to be a great center who can impact the game on both offense and defense, De’Anthony Melton is one of the league’s most underappreciated defensive players at just 22-years-old and Desmond Bane is already knocking down over 45 percent of his three-point attempts in his rookie season. From top to bottom, Memphis has exciting young talent. Together with their established talent like Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas, you’ve got a team primed to compete in the Western Conference in 2021-22.

Memphis may not be a title favorite next year, but their ability to acquire talented youth will only make them better and better every season.

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans have some major decisions to make this offseason, but they are a team to watch out west next year no matter what they do. New Orleans has maybe the most exciting young talent in the NBA in Zion Williamson, who has emerged as one of the most efficient and dangerous scorers in the league this season. Williamson is putting up 26.3 points per game this season on an absurd 62 percent shooting and 66 percent true shooting. At just 20-years-old Williamson is already an All-Star, and he will inevitably improve over the next few seasons with his ceiling being as high as anyone’s in the NBA. New Orleans has managed to pair Williamson with another All-Star level player in Brandon Ingram, who has averaged nearly 24 points per game in each of the past two seasons. The Pelicans’ big decision this offseason will be what to do with their point guard, Lonzo Ball. Ball has always been a talented distributor and defender since entering the league, but this year he has taken a step forward as a scorer, averaging a career-best 14.5 points per game and 38.4 percent shooting from three. Ball is set to be a restricted free agent this offseason, and it’s not a given that he will be back next year.

New Orleans already has a core to build around, and they have young depth pieces to add to the already exciting potential of the roster. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis are a pair of young point guards who have shown a lot of potential and could fill in nicely for Ball if he departs this summer. Alexander-Walker is putting up more than 10 points per game in his sophomore campaign, and he has shown glimpses of being a defender and shooter in the same mold as Ball. Lewis is a speedy rookie out of Alabama who has found playing time hard to come by, but if either Ball or Eric Bledsoe find themselves not in New Orleans next year, he has showcased skills that could put him in the conversation for major minutes.

If Zion takes another step next year, and the whole team cleans it up defensively, the Pelicans could become serious players in the Western Conference.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers may not be full of young players with high-end potential like other teams on this list, but they still represent the West’s most dangerous threat when healthy. Every season the question “when will he finally slow down” is asked about LeBron James, and every season LeBron shows he is still one of the most dominant players in the NBA. LeBron Is 36-years-old, and this season he has put up 25.4 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game and, before getting injured a few weeks ago, was one of the favorites for the MVP award. LeBron’s running mate, Anthony Davis, is equally dangerous and could be considered the NBA’s best two-way player. The Lakers have both Davis and LeBron locked in for next season, and the presence of those two players alone makes them a title threat in the west regardless of the team put around them.

One benefit of having superstars like LeBron and Davis is that it becomes much easier to sign role players. The Lakers will already have the services of Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marc Gasol next season, and Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million player option for next season. But the draw of potentially winning a championship will bring the Lakers role players on cheaper contracts than they would have signed elsewhere, as evident by Gasol, Andre Drummond and Wesley Matthews’ contracts.

The Lakers may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of bright futures, but LeBron and Davis will keep the Lakers’ future bright for as long as they remain in LA.

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